After spending years working on clean energy across America, I have become active in a campaign in our own community, Boulder, Colorado.
This current debate over Boulder’s energy future can seem complex, so I wondered how I would break it down for my nine-month-old son if he spoke his first words this morning and asked: “Dad, why do you care about this?”
I’d probably say something like this…
Boulder is investigating buying its electricity service from a company. Of course, you don’t understand electricity, so let me compare it to something you do
understand: a bottle of formula. It’s reliable, abundant, and if you stopped to think about it, you’d realize you are utterly dependent on it.
Now, imagine some adult – not one of your parents – offered you a deal: he will give you all the formula you can drink. In fact, when you get older, he’ll give you milk and fruit juices, too.
But that adult will ask for a binding commitment for his investment. Namely, he’ll own the exclusive right to provide you all nutritious beverages for your adult life. Does that seem like a long time? Well, he’ll renegotiate with you every twenty years, but he needs this monopoly so he can buy your milk in bulk—and get the good milk affordably, he says. In fact, he’s not just buying milk for you, he points out, he’s buying it for lots of other kids too.
Would you take the deal? Before you answer that – remember your sippy cups? The adult owns those too. He’s provided them to you and he’ll continue doing that when you graduate to cups and glasses. Okay. Now would you take the deal?
Trick question! You are a minor. You can’t make big legal decisions like that. Actually, it was made for you by your grandparents long before you were born, so I’ll be the one to tell you: you took the deal.
Now, fast forward 20 or 40 years.
You are finding it awkward to explain to your friends that this strange adult from another state has the exclusive right to provide you all of your nutritious beverages. You’ve made peace with how bizarre it is, but you’d like to move past it. At one of those twenty-year points, you tell the adult that you want to buy the right back from him, so you can drink whatever you want. You are willing to pay him a fair price.
But he doesn’t want to sell. In fact, he won’t even tell you how much the right to provide you nutritious beverages costs. You want to talk about milk, but he just keeps talking about how expensive those sippy cups are.
Boulder is voting this fall about whether to allow the city to consider buying the wires and poles of our electricity system as well as the right to purchase where that electricity comes from.
We’re not voting to commit to buy it right now. We wouldn’t even know how much to pay, because Xcel Energy, the Minnesota-based company which owns the service, won’t tell us how much it would accept.
I guess I’d have to tell my son that we’re voting to give the city the power to find out how much his sippy cups cost. So that we can give our family and our hometown the power to buy milk from whomever we want.
Next: Where Does the Milk Come From?
Ted Rose is a renewable energy consultant and chair of the Give Boulder the Power campaign, sponsored by the Boulder Clean Energy Business Coalition.