Empowered: Three Cities and their quest for energy independence

“These communities, driven by a recognition that the industry is changing and a commitment to sustainable energy, are already learning from each others work. This is an exciting time.”

Bentham Paulos looks at the stories of three cities – Boulder, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Madison, Wisconsin – that are taking charge of their energy future. He writes about it in his latest book “Empowered.”  Boulder is the only city of the three that has chosen the path of municipalization. Minneapolis, also served by Xcel Energy, chose not to go down that route but has renegotiated its agreement with the utility to bring in more renewable energy. “The upshot was that Xcel saw what was happening in Boulder and I think the last thing they wanted was to have another municipalization battle, so they fairly quickly came to an agreement with the city to create a partnership where they’re looking at local initiatives, energy efficiency in public housing, community solar, job training programs, more renewables etc.”

Madison Wisconsin had a different driver “the utility came out with a proposal to dramatically increase the fixed charges on their bill.”  Paulos says this is part of a nationwide trend where utilities are trying to insulate themselves from changes in energy consumption “they want to make sure they keep getting paid even if people are using less power.”  In response to widespread protest to the increased charges, the utility company has recently come out with a proposal to incorporate more renewable energy in its portfolio.

Paulos says that Boulder was forced to go down the path of municipalization because of state laws which prohibit Community Choice Aggregation – a policy which allows a city to choose a power supply without having to own all the equipment. “I think if Colorado had that option, Boulder would never have had to resort  to the hassle of taking over the utility system.”  Other states have adopted policies that make it easier for cities and consumers to choose their energy supplier “there are half a dozen states that allow a policy called Community Choice Aggregation, where a city can choose the electric supplier on behalf of all of their citizens.” Paulos says about 80% of households in Illinois are now served through Community Choice Aggregation.

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Bentham Paulos will speak about Empowered on Tuesday December 8th  from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Flagstaff Room at the East Boulder Community Center at 5660 Sioux Drive. (note: this event was originally scheduled for Monday, Dec 7th)

(image: B. Paulos, paulosanalysis.com)

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