Three vital advantages of municipal utilities

bob massie president new economics instituteBob Massie of America’s New Economics Institute sent news today that voters in Boulder, Colorado, have ended their relationship with Xcel Energy, a utility with $10.7 billion in revenues, clearing the way for the city to form its own municipal utility that would lower rates and make greater use of renewable energy.

The city’s ‘multiple pleas’ for more clean wind and solar power had been turned down by Xcel which then financed a new coal power plant.

boulder cycle demo

During a vigorous campaign that attracted national attention, corporate executives and their allies mounted a well-funded operation, arguing that the city had neither the money nor the expertise to manage such a complex enterprise.

boulder graphicAdvocates for the municipal utility, including the New Era Colorado Foundation, fought back with a successful crowd-funding campaign, attracting public attention with imaginative activities.

There are 1000 municipal utilities in the United States, serving 50 million customers. Most  are owned by cities, and controlled by panels of local citizens. Some are cooperatives owned by their members.

boulder john farrellJohn Farrell, who directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, points out that if the city moves ahead, it would capture nearly $100 million currently spent on electricity imports and create up to $350 million in local economic development by dramatically increasing local clean energy production.

Proponents of change have argued that public control creates three vital benefits:

  • First, decisions are made not by distant corporate managers whose first priority is to generate returns for absentee shareholders or to pay enormous salaries for executives, but by managers who are accountable to the community.
  • Second, because of this, municipal utilities can focus on important local goals, such as investing in renewable energy, efficiency, and other factors that increase community resilience.
  • And finally, the rates of municipal utilities are traditionally lower than their counterparts, and they channel any financial surplus — also known as profit — back into the community.

 boulder poster

Massie comments: “The entire model of a corporate utility operating a centralized grid is facing steady erosion. Universities and cities across the country are expressing their desire to move away from both hiring — or even owning stocks — in companies that remain committed to fossil fuels. In addition, every family who installs solar on their roof not only slashes their need for energy from a utility, but also cuts the revenue for those same firms.”

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Energy security, using devices manufactured in this country

prof john a mathews 2Professor John A. Mathews’ areas of expertise include semiconductors, flat panel displays and new energy industries, solar photovoltaics and LEDs.

He wrote in the Financial Times:

“A quite different version of “energy security” involves reliance on the power generated by renewable devices – wind turbines, solar cells – that are manufactured in the country itself.

“What you make is yours, forever.

“Provided a country has abundant resources of renewable energy – wind, water, sunshine –  making itself independent in power needs by manufacturing its energy systems is the best guarantee of long-term (as well as medium-term) security.

“By contrast, continuing dependence on fossil fuels (even alternatives such as shale oil or gas) locks a country in to eventual diminishing returns.

“Adopting the alternative “security through manufacturing” approach has the convenient aspect that it would help to revive manufacturing centres . . .

“And it has the added convenient feature that it reduces the country’s carbon emissions”.

Professor Mathews currently holds the Eni Chair of Competitive Dynamics and Global Strategy at LUISS Guido Carli University, in Rome, and Chair of Strategy, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University, in Sydney.

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Doctor prescribes localisation

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Dr Mansfield, after surveying Macmillan Support’s analysis, continues:

peter mansfieldMacmillan’s spokesperson acknowledges that cancer survivors are usually weakened in some way by the treatment.

This is likely to make them more vulnerable to the other kinds of disease which will eventually carry them off. But not before yet more medical services and long-term support. And most of the half of us who don’t acquire cancer, nevertheless require medical services of some sort fairly regularly.

If we were cattle, our breeders would probably send us all to the abattoir and start again with new stock!

We cannot afford to be so fatalistic about trends like this. Something much more radical is called for. We know what, and have done for most of the past century.

We need to clean up our world, and therefore our food. It’s that simple. Yes, simple. It can be done, given lashings of wartime spirit.

His prescription 

Drastic reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels. Urgent development of hydrogen fuel cells, environmental electricity generation. Banning motor vehicles in built-up centres. Children and their parents walking or cycling to and from school. Zero carbon homes, zero carbon transport.

Urgent development of organic agriculture and horticulture. Many more people working the land by small-scale technologies – in return for benefits if need be. Mainly local distribution of crops in season. Outright bans on junk food manufacture and – probably – tobacco products. Run down large scale and chemical-based agriculture and all associated subsidies.

And what would result?

  • Youngsters would grow up strong, capable, disease-free and motivated. Some already do – it would be nice to know just how many. Then we could plot the rate of rise of that statistic in the next decade.
  • Air and water would be cleaner and electronegative, and food would be hugely more sustaining.
  • Activity would be human-scale, physical and down-to-earth. Even the chattering classes would save their breath to harvest their next meal.
  • The NHS and social services would scale down over the next 20 years, to a fraction of its present size.
  • They would be replaced by genuine communities based on residence, workplace and land, providing extended families to include everyone.
  • Free benefits would be history – and so would profitable illness.

We would have a health service – with huge vitality to match! And we would still have industry, leisure and full employment.

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And a future.