Published: Sept. 1, 2011 By

Boulder is going to have a city election this fall, and the hot issue is power to the people.

No, it isn’t one of those pesky ’60s flashbacks. It’s about electricity – who will supply it and how it will be made.

For years the city fathers and mothers have been pushing Xcel Energy to supply Boulder with more carbon-free kilowatts.

“No can do,” said Xcel (in so many words). “If we do it for you, we’ll have to do it for everyone.”

“In that case,” said the city pops and moms (in so many words), “we may let your franchise expire and set up a green municipal utility instead. Power to the people,” they added brightly.

Consultants came, saw and opined.

“For a mere $200 million you can set up a municipal utility,” they said, “which will allow you, energy-wise, to decarbonize, democratize and decentralize so long as the wind blows (which is 35 percent of the time) and the sun shines (which is 50 percent of the time). Actual results may vary.

“Power to the people,” they added breezily.

“Uh, stick with us and we’ll add an extra 200 megawatts worth of windmills” replied the Xcel suits. “That plus the green power we already produce (or soon will) means that 93 percent of Boulder’s juice will be green.

“Naturally, you’ll have to pay more,” they added.

“And by the way, setting up your own electric company will cost more like $550 million — you’re still on the hook for your share of the debt we took on to build new power plants and transmission lines.”

“Power to the people (lawyers are standing by),” they added darkly.

“OK,” said the city moms and pops. “We’ll let the people decide — municipal power or Xcel with wind. Pick one. Power to the people,” they added democratically.

“Not so fast,” said Xcel. “The choice should be ‘Xcel with carbon’ or ‘Xcel with wind.’ Pick one.”

“Our way or the highway,” said the city moms and pops.

“Deal’s off. We’re hittin’ the road. We’re PACing it in [as in Political Action Committee],” said Xcel energetically. “See you in November.”

“Since they’re gone, make the ballot question, ‘Municipal Power, Yea or Nay?,’ ” said the moms and pops. “And ask the voters to double the carbon tax,” they said collectively.

Meanwhile, in Longmont we’re watching all this with slack-jawed amazement.

We’ve had municipal power for the past 99 years.

We have the lowest residential electric rates in Colorado — about 30 percent lower than Xcel’s residential rate.

That’s because Longmont’s power company is a nonprofit. And because 73 percent of our electricity comes from coal. Mostly Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal, the country’s cheapest ($13.80 a ton vs. $78-plus a ton from West Virginia).

And unlike Boulder, we don’t have a carbon tax.

“Power to the people,” we say warmly.