BOULDER — City residents here voted in a landslide in the election that ended Tuesday to move forward with a plan to buy out Xcel Energy and run their own electric system.
The vote and the coming potential buyout are part of a larger pathbreaking plan gaining attention around the world to majorly ramp up use of renewables by pushing aside what many here see as a genetic hesitation on the part of Xcel to do the same.
Xcel is a major regional power company that has moved toward renewables steadily in Colorado, but mostly just to meet standards set by the state. Xcel’s Boulder critics say it’s a company that has long done the bulk of its business hand in hand with the coal industry and that is tied to fossil fuels more generally through official partnerships, tacit agreements and institutional stasis.
Xcel has seemed to go out of its way to make enemies in this liberal university town, fighting a dirty and expensive battle against the Boulder plan from the start. It worked behind the scenes to draft Measure 310 and pay for signature gatherers to land it on the ballot. The company spent nearly $730,000 to push Measure 310 this year. It spent almost $1 million in 2011 in a losing battle against a first-stage proposition on the same topic.
Two grassroots groups supporting the Boulder plan and opposed to 310 raised roughly $350,000, which included hundreds of thousands raised through a crowd-sourcing campaign and a $65,000 matching donation from the Sierra Club.
“At the end of the day, I think this was just a mistake for Xcel to run this measure,” said Steve Fenberg, head of New Era Colorado, the youth-politics group that spearheaded the campaign to defeat 310. “Xcel has wanted a second vote [on the plan]. Well, it got one. Voters reaffirmed their intentions by a 2 to 1 margin. That’s more than we had for the last vote.”
New Era is a small local activist group. Its repeat hands-down political victory over a goliath corporation comes something like cold water out of a morning tap in an era where goliath corporations seem as much as ever to pull all the political strings.
At midnight, with 75 percent of the ballots counted, Xcel’s measure was losing 34 percent to 66 percent of the vote. (Thursday update: final tally was 69 percent to 31 percent.)
“I think we proved politics can still be about people and not about expensive political consultants,” Fenberg said.
He said New Era received money from 6,000 donors living in all 50 states and 24 countries.
“It was a local issue but it was bigger than that, too. It shows that when a local community does something big, the global community responds. They get your back.”
[ Boulder photo by Geoff Greene ]