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That's what she said

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What Can Boulder Learn from Green Energy Pioneers?


At a PLAN-Boulder forum on the evening of May 16 two members of Professor Bruce Goldstein’s graduate planning studio class at the University of Colorado-Denver summarized case studies it conducted of three energy localization programs in various parts of the country and the lessons the class drew from them.

Kristine Chan-Lizardo and George Patten talked about the Cape Light Compact in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, the Marin Energy Authority in Marin County, California, and Solarize Portland in Portland, Oregon.

Cape Light Compact was formed in 1997 as a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) by two counties and 21 towns. (“Community Choice Aggregation” refers to the legal ability of certain governmental entities in some states to buy electricity from sources other than the local investor-owned utility and to have that electricity delivered through the investor-owned utility’s lines and equipment. Colorado has not authorized CCAs.) Its primary purposes were to reduce electricity rates, which had been among the highest in New England, and to keep electrical utility profits in the local communities. It has succeeded in fulfilling those purposes and in undertaking aggressive energy conservation measures. However, Chan-Lizardo and Patten noted that it has lagged in developing or purchasing renewable energy—in part due to concerns about costs, and significant opposition has developed to large-scale wind and solar energy projects on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.

The Marin Energy Authority (MCE) was created in 2008 as a CCA by Marin County and seven municipalities after four years of studies and community planning processes. The concept was first proposed and promoted by a citizen. The local investor-owned utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), did not oppose the California state legislation which authorized CCAs, but fiercely fought  MCE’s efforts to secure customers and energy supplies. Strong public support enabled it to overcome those challenges. MCE currently offers its customers two options: “light green,” which provides 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources at rates equal to or below PG&E’s, and “deep green,” which provides 100 percent of electricity from renewable sources at a rate seven percent above PG&E’s. Once MCE is fully implemented across its coverage area, it is expected to cut county-wide carbon emissions by up to 500,000 tons, or 13 percent.

Chan-Lizardo and Patten recounted that in 2002 an effort occurred to municipalize Portland General Electric (PGE), which was then owned by Enron and served the Portland metropolitan area. Increased energy rates and the indifference of PGE’s management to local concerns precipitated the campaign. It failed, in part due to resentment in surrounding counties of perceived political domination by the City of Portland. Subsequently, however, neighborhood associations coalesced to install photovoltaic equipment collectively under the banner of Solarize Portland. Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has provided technical support and marketing funds to Solarize Portland.

The students identified the following general lessons of relevance to the City of Boulder’s current attempt to democratize, decentralize and decarbonize its energy supplies:

  • Engage the community and build strong networks
  • Develop credibility with and trust from the public
  • Be open and transparent in making decisions
  • Develop regional allies and participate in decision-making at the state level
  • Develop and support alternative supply options
  • Anticipate changes and uncertainties in the energy industries
  • Organize your public energy provider so that it can adapt to change

Local renewable energy activist Leslie Glustrom, who attended the forum, observed that in the last ten years 13 successful attempts to municipalize electrical distribution systems have occurred in the United States. She also claimed that the 500 municipal electrical utilities in this country usually have a better record of reliable delivery of power than investor-owned utilities.

Copies of the class’ case studies and a summary are available at

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