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Utilities Board: Another weary government ritual

Thu, Sep 20, 2012

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Yesterday’s Utility Board meeting was, at least between 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. was (choose any or all):
–A clownish circus, a goat rope even by the lax standards of local government.
-A vivid illustration of why Utilities governance ought to be changed.
-A reminder to city officials that they ought to study “Roberts’ Rules of Order.”
-Yet another reason to ban elected officials from carrying firearms to meetings.
-An exercise in futility.
The subject: the Martin Drake Power Plant  (“should it stay or should it go?” as Jackson Brown might have sung) and the Neumann emission reduction system (“should we pay or should it go?”).
It was clear that all eight councilors present (Tim Leigh was absent) had long ago made up their minds, so the meeting was just another weary governmental ritual. Councilors bickered among themselves, aimed gratuitous barbs at members of the public who were foolish enough to come to the dais, and launched the city on a course that will lead to — a task force!
During the meeting, Board president Scott Hente stared wearily into space as his colleagues took turns interrupting each other. Like the hapless owner of half a dozen snarling curs, he had apparently decided to let the animals have at it, and to hell with ‘em.
A scant majority of Council, (Merv Bennett, Lisa Czeladtko, Jan Martin, Hente, and  Bernie Herpin) are content to kick the can down the road to a generation yet unborn. They’ve already endorsed spending $130 million or so on the Neumann project which, as Richard Skorman pointed out, will likely keep the old coal-burner huffing away for decades to come.
When Skorman opined that he’d probably not live to see Drake decommissioned, Bernie Herpin sarcastically suggested that his ashes be scattered on the power plant.
After an hour and a half of desultory debate, during which Angela Dougan appeared to be acting as the spokesperson for the reality-based community (much to the dismay of Lisa Czelatdko, who frequently interrupted her), the Board agreed to the appointment of a subcommittee of two (Brandy Williams and Czelatdko).
The subcommittee’s task: to bring recommendations regarding a citizen-manned “Drake decommissioning task force,” to the Board next month. Czeladtko, clearly eager to serve, threw out all the phrases associated with such groups: “process,”  “stakeholders,” and “scope of work,”  etc, etc.
Those of us cursed by long experience in government know what these words mean: delay, obfuscation and bureaucratic smokescreens.
So get ready for a meandering, contentious and meaningless “process.” When presented, the report will recommend that Drake be slated for closure in, say, 2028 – and no one will pay any attention. Indeed, it may well be presented to an entirely different group, thanks to the April 2013 elections.
Meanwhile, reality intruded  – ever so politely — into the Board’s deliberations.
Bryce Carter, a soft-spoken young man who works for the Sierra Club’s “Colorado beyond Coal Campaign,” came to the dais and noted that both Drake and Nixon had committed “repeated and continuing violations of the Clean Air Act.”
Herpin and Hente went after Carter.
“That’s the way you operate – you bully” said Herpin. “These ‘suspected violations’ aren’t proven – you’re trying (to make us back down).”
“The Sierra Club’s assertions are patently untrue,” said Hente contemptuously.
They’d better hope that the Sierra Club is only bluffing.
The nine-page “notice of intent to sue,” which was delivered to CSU on Sept. 17, makes highly specific and detailed allegations of Clean Air Act violations during the past 25 years. Bernie, Scott: do you remember when those scruffy hippie environmentalists last sued the city? Something about the Pikes Peak Highway and the Clean Water Act, wasn’t it?
Meanwhile, Boulder residents are trying to create their very own municipally owned electric utility by acquiring Xcel’s Boulder assets. The reason: so that they can accelerate the use of renewable and/or less polluting energy sources.
Our City Council/Utility Board appears to support keeping control of municipal electric generation for the opposite reason: to slow down/prevent any movement from coal to less polluting energy sources.
It may be that both cities are wedded to the politics of delusion.
Nowadays, the private companies which dominate electric generation and transmission depend upon economies of scale. Replacing or shutting down a power plant doesn’t call for an agonizing, contentious multi-year process.  For CSU, shutting down Drake means losing more than a third of the company’s generating capacity.  Building a replacement creates correspondingly large financial strains.
For Xcel or Southern, building or shutting down power plants is a simple, unthreatening process — it’s what they do.
And as Czeladtko pointed out, interrupting Sam Masias as he began his prepared comments to the Board, privatizing CSU would have its consequences.
“You wouldn’t be able to address the Board of a private company three times, would you?” she asked. “Once a year, at most.”
What??!! No Utility Board meetings? Now that’s a dismal prospect.

1 Comments For This Post

  1. John Whitten Says:

    Is it possible that the Sierra Club is really a front for a consulting firm specializing in turning dirty old power plants into baseball stadiums? Whatever their motive, there should be no doubt of their willingness and ability to go after CSU…..

    And where was the EDC/Chamber Powerplant Consulting Group? If they weren’t there, let’s hope they were out spying on the Pueblo, Ft. Collins, Denver EDC groups, learning how they go after, and get business.

    I beleive the word is f-utility.