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Caldara: Energy deregulation beats municipal power grabs

Our progressive governor is from Boulder. So is our progressive attorney general, secretary of state, speaker of the house, and senate majority leader. Is it any wonder why our state is turning into Boulder?

I lived in Boulder since before it was elitist. I learned the hard way what “Boulder values” now mean. It’s sad to see Boulder’s do-what-I-say-ism being slapped onto the entire state. I get why our state leaders are forcing their world view throughout Colorado. They learned it from their hometown.

What I don’t get is why other local governments are rushing to become Boulder. Take Pueblo’s effort to create its own electric utility.

We in Boulder have been dealing with that nightmare for a decade now with a host of unintended, but hardly unexpected, consequences. My favorite being the city trying to annex surrounding housing developments in order to get enough “customers” to make their venture viable. And the endless negotiations to purchase the current utility’s infrastructure under threat of stealing it via eminent domain is worthy of a Godfather movie.

And by the way, nearly a decade later the city still doesn’t own the power system.

If governmental control of energy is a good thing, then nationalizing it must be even better. The only difference is scale.

Yet, you can sympathize with people wanting to have more say in what powers their lights and what they pay for it. For opulent Boulderites, they want feel-good energy no matter the cost, be it produced by wind farms, solar arrays or bunny flatulence.

The citizens of Pueblo seem to be concerned with the growing size of their electric bills. Imagine that.

If local control of energy is desirable, then do it right. Really make it local, right down to the individual customer.

There is absolutely no reason why power generation should remain a monopoly anywhere in Colorado, or the nation for that matter.

Once completely unthinkable, we no longer have a monopoly on phone service. We also choose our internet service and our cellular service. We can watch TV over the air, via cable, from satellite and streaming. Why not power?

The state of Texas deregulated energy 18 years ago, empowering the individual to choose her own power company. Consumers merely go to PowerToChoose.com and shop amongst hundreds of different power plans. This allows them to make their buying decision based on their own values, not what their City Council values for them.

If a customer wants to pay more for feel-good, renewable energy, well more power to him (pardon the pun). If you want the lowest possible price, you now have scores of companies competing for business.

Since Texas deregulated power and gave choice to consumers, 85% of all customers have switched power companies at least once. Think about that for a second. Most everyone in Texas has switched providers just like you have switched cell phone carriers. Choice empowers people not politicians.

If diversity and tolerance is truly a progressive value, then it should be those on the left who lead the drive for power deregulation. They won’t of course. They know what’s best for their citizens.

Public utilities won’t push it either. They get a guaranteed rate of return without having to compete and find inefficiency.

For even more local control we all should be pushing for deregulation of “micro-grids.” This is a term you’ll hear more and more often in the future. Micro-grids basically means what it says — really small electrical grids between neighbors. Yeah, you laughed when you first heard about driverless cars too.

If your neighbor is making more energy from her own power system via wind, solar or natural gas than she is using, she can sell the extra to you. To oversimplify, imagine running an extension cable over to her place and then handing her some cash.

Many businesses have their own power generation and would love to sell their excess. And as battery storage technology grows, nearby businesses and households will be able to “charge up” when the business is off-peak and has lots of power capacity.

Cities like Boulder and Pueblo could, if they actually cared about their citizens, be the driving force for energy deregulation if they would stop their current, literal power grabs.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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