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Dueling Boulder Ballot Measures Attract Dollars, and Questions

Vince Darcangelo

Forget fracking. When it comes to a high-stakes and costly battle about energy on the Boulder ballot, it’s dueling questions 310 and 2E that will chart the most significant course for the city.

In 2011 voters narrowly gave approval for Boulder to study the process and chart a path forward for municipalization and launching a city utility. But in order to do that they would have to buy the infrastructure for a new utility from current provider Xcel Energy.

310 and 2E offer competing views about how Boulder should issue debt to accomplish this goal.

Issue 310 would require voters to approve the total debt limit of a future city utility. The measure is backed by the group Voter Approval of Debt Limits.

“This is a huge operation that the city’s looking to take on,” said Katy Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the Xcel-funded group. “And the people who will be paying for this—which are the rate payers in Boulder—we need some idea of what the total costs of this are going to be.”

Credit Grace Hood
Boulder's municipalization plans are part of a push to cut greenhouse emissions and to use more renewable energy

Atkinson says Boulder citizens ought to know what the full costs of forming a municipal utility are before the process is launched.

City council members proposed 2E to compete with Issue 310. 2E asks voters to approve $214 million in debt for the acquisition of Xcel’s distribution system.

“I can understand why citizens are leery in many ways,” said Boulder Mayor Matt Applebaum. “It’s something new and it’s not something that gets done very often.”

Applebaum says he’s concerned that requiring voter approval of total debt limits would crush the conversation and the leverage that the city has right now in the process.

"It's something new and it's not something that gets done very often."

His message to voters is simple:

“We’re saying, we understand you’re nervous about cost. We’re now saying we can put some limits on the big unknown costs—most of the other costs are known well and have been modeled thoroughly,” Applebaum said.

Proponents of both measures have deep pockets—thousands of dollars have been raised for advertising campaigns.

So what if both measures are successful?

Boulder officials say the one that receives the most votes will be the one that is implemented. 

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