To: City Council
RE: Municipalization Decision Dear Mayor and City Council members,
You’ll receive a lot of emails from people who understand a lot more than I do about the legal, administrative and technical steps it will take to get to a municipal utility for Boulder. But there are only a few of us who had front row seats in the early deliberations with Xcel that have led us to this point.
When I was first elected, Xcel franchise negotiations had been paused and we were dealing with Xcel’s bungled “SmartGridCity.” Under-budgeted, under-planned and way over-promised, SmartGridCity was a financial disaster for rate-payers, but one that, thanks to a compliant PUC, let Xcel corporate management and shareholders essentially off a $44.5 million hook. Critiques of the SmartGridCity project that can be read online speak to the company’s inability to communicate with its Boulder customers or to work constructively with the city. (As an aside, Boulder’s spending on the muni is a fraction of what was spent on SmartGridCity. Further, a good bit of spending on the muni thus far has been because of Xcel’s implacable determination to stop Boulder, an out-of-franchise community with a constitutional right to municipalize and three winning ballot initiatives, from fully exploring this option.)
In 2009, we picked up franchise negotiations, post-SmartGridCity. City council and staff developed about a dozen proposals we hoped could be included in a franchise agreement with Xcel. Some were as straight-forward as moving to more efficient street lights or developing ways to monitor the effectiveness of energy efficiency programs. Other proposals were more arcane.
To make a long and painful story short, Xcel stonewalled the city negotiators, regularly cancelling scheduled meetings. The company offered little and opted for a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach to the standard franchise agreement. My council voted to recommend against putting the franchise question on the ballot. Instead an occupation tax to replace revenue lost by allowing the franchise to lapse was placed on the ballot and won handily.
I relate this somewhat ancient history to remind you that the municipalization saga began with high hopes for a constructive, positive relationship with Xcel. I have come to believe that the strictures applied to a regulated utility monopoly in Colorado and the imperatives of an investorowned utility, of necessity motivated by profit, make any working arrangement or partnership exceedingly difficult. Xcel’s clumsy, almost Keystone Cops-like effort to defeat municipalization in the most recent ballot issue (remember moving paid shills to Boulder to file an anti-muni ballot initiative, paying petitioners who were clueless about the initiative and were recorded spouting falsehoods, throwing an enormous amount of rate-payer money, yours and mine, to pass their ballot measure…) is a reminder of the way this company operates.
Neither of Xcel’s “last, best proposals” are worth considering. Its financial offer isn’t meant to be taken seriously. As to the partnership proposal, the company has had many opportunities to prove themselves honest brokers and good partners. When have they been anything but a disappointment? Do not be tricked.
Please stay the course through the PUC hearing. If an off-ramp is to be taken, let it be voted on by our citizens or when all reasonable paths forward have been foreclosed. We are absolutely not there now. I am in Portugal at the moment, or would be at the rally and public hearing next week.
Susan (Osborne) Former mayor and city council member