Swords into Plowshares: Support 2C

By John Tayer, President and CEO of the Boulder Chamber

“[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”  Isaiah 2:3–4

For good reason, our community has fought with near religious fervor for more than a decade over the best path toward achieving our climate protection and renewable energy goals. Record-breaking forest fires, spreading drought, and the other consequences of an overheated planet point to a crisis worthy of such a fight. It seems appropriate, therefore, to offer a biblical analogy as a closing argument in favor of Ballot Issue 2C, the proposed franchise agreement with Xcel Energy.

A common interpretation of the cited Bible passage calls upon all of us to turn the weapons of war into instruments of peaceful progress. In the case of Ballot Issue 2C, we have the opportunity to turn the resources we currently expend fighting over the vestiges of an antiquated power system into a positive path forward that includes commitments to climate protection goals and clean energy innovation that impact Boulder and beyond.

Other proponents of Ballot Issue 2C often reference the $25 million we’ve already spent fighting with Xcel, a laundry list of lost court battles, and the years of distraction from other more fruitful green energy strategies as evidence that we’ve been on the wrong path in the municipalization effort. I won’t lie . . . that’s how I feel. But if, as municipalization advocates argue, our efforts moved Xcel to its current 80% carbon reduction commitment and a 100% goal, then maybe it was a worthy investment.

What I do know is that’s water under the bridge and here we are, today, at the tail end of peace negotiations with a company positioned as our nemesis for over a decade. Sure, we can continue to rail over past grievances and play to that inherent distrust many have for large businesses. The David and Goliath story also resonates, representing the surprising long-odds victory by the underdog. But rational judgement should tell you to avoid that fight.

It was that character of rational judgement, in fact, that motivated Mayor Sam Weaver and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Yates to extend an olive branch to Xcel Energy’s leadership. This was not surrender, but negotiation from a position of strength founded in the firm conviction that our community was prepared to go the distance in its fight for the right to municipalize Boulder’s electric system. Long hours of difficult negotiation led to the settlement agreement and underlying franchise agreement we decide to accept or reject this coming Tuesday.

So what’s in the agreement we are being asked to accept? Along with Xcel’s partnership in meeting Boulder’s energy needs, a service they perform admirably, there are other significant features. As a safety and reliability measure, Xcel promises a $33 million investment in undergrounding our electric wires. Boulder also will benefit from Xcel’s work with us to remove limits on rooftop solar and collaborate with us on renewable energy initiatives. It all adds up to a much more productive investment of our community’s precious resources (think, “plowshares”).

Beyond the specific details, there’s a much deeper value at play in a decision to approve the proposed franchise agreement. Boulder prides itself on being a bastion of progressive ideals and an incubator of creative solutions to global challenges. This reputation helps attract some of the world’s brightest minds to our university, laboratories and businesses - providing leadership through solutions to some of the most important issues in government and industry.

There’s a dark side to this perception of Boulder exceptionalism, though - the story of Boulder standing alone in its independent pursuit of justice. It’s the false notion that we can always go it alone and somehow everyone else will follow our lead. Particularly in this case, the time and resources it has taken just to get to this current state of uncertainty in the municipalization effort doesn’t bode well for our leadership vision as a model for climate action.

While collaboration has its own challenges, it also offers more promise. Rather than focusing on Boulder’s 25 square miles and 107,000 residents, the new franchise agreement and settlement terms give us leverage to advance climate protection innovation that can revolutionize the energy future for Xcel’s 3.3 million customers across Colorado and its multi-state territory. That’s positive climate impact!

Let’s drop our swords, by voting “yes” on Ballot Issue 2C, and begin shaping them into something of more productive utility.

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