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Boulder-Owned Utility Takes Another Step Forward

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Supporters of the effort in Boulder to create a city-owned electric utility got a boost in Tuesday’s election, when voters chose a debt-limit measure offered by the city over a competing measure put forth and funded by Xcel Energy.

Both Question 2E, which was backed by the Boulder City Council, and the Xcel-backed Question 310, sought to limit the amount of debt the city can incur in the process of creating its own municipal utility.

Proponents of each measure spent thousands of dollars on dueling ad campaigns to get their message across to voters. In the end, the city council-backed measure appears to have passed with about two-thirds of the vote.

But Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood says that doesn’t mean municipalization opponents are conceding defeat.

"This is a resounding victory for supporters of municipalization, but I think Xcel also views it as a partial victory," says Wood.

"Xcel simply does not believe that its assets can be bought for that amount of money. Ultimately that issue could be decided by the courts."

Although the Xcel-supported measure was defeated by a wide margin, the alternative ballot measure does limit how much debt the city can incur to purchase Xcel’s utility infrastructure to $214 million.

"And Xcel simply does not believe that its assets can be bought for that amount of money," says Wood. "Ultimately that issue could be decided by the courts."

What do yesterday’s results mean for backers of a city-owned utility in Boulder?

"The overall impact is that municipalization can go forward – assuming that the city can purchase Xcel’s assets for the $214 million," Wood says. "That is the limit in terms of the debt they can incur to buy those assets. But the ultimate price for those is not yet known... so that is a big 'if.'"

What may be most surprising is the margin of approval in Tuesday's vote, says Wood.

"When municipalization moved forwarda couple of years ago, it was by a very narrow margin, with two ballot measures -- one of which passed by just 100-some votes. So this is a much more resounding victory for supporters of municipalization."

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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