Category Archives: GHG Climate Change

Boulder’s Municipalization of Electric Utility Referendum

January 7, 2012

50.4% – 49.6% (13,353 – 13,141): the margin of “victory” in Boulder’s municipalization referendum (occupation tax extension) on November 1st was 2011’s top Boulder story. We’re a progressive and well-educated town, but consensus on the way forward eluded us, even as more violent weather events occur world-wide and rapidly warming polar regions scream out for aggressive climate change-slowing solutions. I’d wager greater than 85% of Boulder’s voters agree on the City’s climate action goals. Our debate is about means and methods, and how to get the most bang for our bucks, sooner than later.
Continue reading Boulder’s Municipalization of Electric Utility Referendum

Municipilization Election Stand-Off – Carpe Diem

December 31, 2011

50.4% – 49.6% (13,353 – 13,141): the margin of “victory” in Boulder’s municipalization referendum (occupation tax extension) on November 1st was 2011’s top Boulder story. We’re a progressive and well-educated town, but consensus on the way forward eluded us, even as more violent weather events occur world-wide and rapidly warming polar regions scream out for aggressive climate change-slowing solutions. I’d wager greater than 85% of Boulder’s voters agree on the City’s climate action goals. Our debate is about means and methods, and how to get the most bang for our bucks, sooner than later.
Continue reading Municipilization Election Stand-Off – Carpe Diem

Conservation Makes Cents for Xcel

April 30, 2011

Recent polling showing citizen “uncertainty” concerning whether to establish a municipal energy utility and toss Xcel should surprise no one. It’s complicated. Should the City spend hundred(s) of millions of dollars buying Xcel’s pipes and wires? Should we, instead, invest the money rehabilitating structures (commercial and residential) to reduce our consumption of natural gas and electrons? Admittedly, all energy is not created equal. Some, including most “renewables,” are sustainable. Others borrow from the distant past, squandering a diminishing supply of solar energy stored in carbon-based fuels to support profligate lifestyles today.
Continue reading Conservation Makes Cents for Xcel

Economic Resiliency: A Do or Die Proposition

March 26, 2011

“Economic resiliency” is a term we’re hearing more often of late. Auto manufacturers in the midwest are shutting down and laying off workers because the earthquake in Japan disrupted the supply of engine parts. Semiconductor chip prices are jumping for the same reason. The Middle East’s “Jasmine Revolution” is increasing oil prices and driving ethanol production, which competes for fields of corn — raising food prices.

Some of the challenges Boulder must address to achieve economic resiliency include a shortage of workforce housing, the need for more year round local agricultural production, and the ability to withstand temporary manufacturing supply disruptions, which may become permanent. When the price of oil rises high enough, “outsourcing” goes away, because the price of transport exceeds the savings realized from less expensive labor and less restrictive environmental regulations overseas.

Boulder would be well-advised to examine our local economy for vulnerability to supply disruptions. “Just-in-time” inventories work great until the flow stops. What raw materials, parts or products do we depend upon now that may become unavailable or unaffordable when predictable, probable disruptions occur? What is Boulder’s back-up plan? It is unwise to ignore the warnings current events are firing across our bow.

The essence of effective long range planning is anticipation of probabilities and preservation of options. If we assume we will always be able to afford what we need to survive after it has traveled half-way around the world to return to us, we may find that our “resiliency” was an illusion.

Gas Price Increases Won’t Persist

March 12, 2011
The law of supply and demand does not apply. Speculators rule. We (literally) pay the price.

Is $3.75 per gallon the new normal, or will this be just another bump in the road? Experts are attributing half the price increase since last fall to competition with India and China. That is unlikely to change. The price increases during the past couple of weeks are harder to explain.

The situation in Libya is very troubling from a humanitarian perspective, but Saudi Arabia has committed to replace Libya’s 2% share of world oil production. Experts have indicated there is no shortage of oil or gasoline in the supply system, so emotions and potential profits, not market principles, underlie the recent price spike. This, too, shall pass.

U.S. consumers have shown a remarkable ability to rapidly reduce gas consumption in response to historic price hikes. The result has been clogging of the distribution system, which has often lead quickly to price decreases to clear out the excess inventory. Thus, in ordinary circumstances, we profligately waste gas, but we know how to conserve when that matters.
The gas price roller-coaster rides we have taken in the past have braced us for a future that is not built upon a cheap energy foundation, but it hasn’t lead to widespread industry retooling, business model revision, or personal behavioral adjustments. We have, however, sold our clunkers, greased our bikes, and identified trip-combining opportunities – our personal transportation “Easy” buttons. The future is likely to demand more.

New Year’s Resolutions, circa 2011

January 2, 2011

Let’s take ourselves less seriously, set aside our historic community feuds, extend our planning horizon, and begin the process of saving our species. Mother Nature doesn’t care about us all that much. At this point, Mother Earth can support microbes and cockroaches more easily than humans. Where is Plan(et) B? The dinosaurs had it done to them, but we’re doing it to ourselves; and we think we’re the intelligent ones?

We hope we can save ourselves by tinkering around the margins (i.e., buy a Prius, install solar panels, insulate, grow your own vegetables, install low flow shower faucets [been there, done that]), but what we really need to do is restore turn of the last century streetscapes. You know,: the walk to work, bike to school, say “hi” to the neighbors at the corner grocery store, take a train to the big city once in a while world that is the definition of nostalgia now, but was all we needed to survive without cheap oil in its day.

We need modernity’s antibiotics, birth control and Internet, but we also need to wean ourselves off of outsourced manufactured goods and 3,000-mile salads in favor of home-grown food and home-made stuff that isn’t dependent upon $50/barrel oil for its creation or $3.00/gallon gasoline for its transport. We can expect those prices to double or even triple in the next 5 years, but so what if they don’t? What makes you happy? Less driving? Shopping closer to home? Follow your bliss in 2011.

End Boulder’s Auto-Dependency

December 18, 2010

In 1994, the City began its first “subcommunity” plan in North Boulder. The notion was that the best way to unwind Boulder’s auto-dependent, post-WWII human settlement pattern was to focus on discrete areas of Boulder that could become “primarily self-sufficient” – places where residents would be able to work, shop and play closer to where they sleep without having to drive their car everywhere to do almost everything. Sixteen years later, the automobile still reigns supreme.

We keep kicking the tough decisions down the road (literally). How can we establish walkable neighborhoods? The City should inventory and map residential rental housing. Unlike owner-occupied homes, these investor-owned dwelling units are “in play” for land assembly purposes — an essential first step in the neighborhood and subcommunity center development process.

Transferable residential development rights (TDRs) need to be re-calibrated so that a development right in the County can be traded for 5-7 affordable dwelling units in Boulder. TDRs can then be used to support development of walkable mixed use (WAMU) centers within our existing, sprawling residential areas. The TDR concept should be evolved further to include transferable commercial development rights. This would allow commercial development potential existing in remote areas to be concentrated along transit corridors, nodes, and neighborhood and subcommunity centers. Ultimately, zoning maps need to be created with water colors, not highlighters and sharpies. Interface areas should “bleed” into each other. Large tracts of homogeneous single use zones are inherently auto dependent, the cartographic antithesis of a truly sustainable future.

BVCP: Lead Follow or Get Out of the Way

July 24, 2010

In Boulder County, there are delightful, walkable neighborhood centers in most of our historic downtowns. It is, perhaps, worth noting that they were built before zoning regulations existed in Colorado. The downtowns of gridded streets and alleys were established along railroad tracks that were the West’s lifelines at the turn of the last century. They evolved naturally in response to business innovation and customer preferences. From a carbon footprint perspective, per capita energy use and waste were, of necessity, optimized and minimized.

Those involved in the Boulder Valley “Comprehensive” Plan 5-year update process should bear this history in mind. The end of cheap gasoline may have us headed “back to (survive in) the future.” We’re all in this together, too; Boulder cannot meet this challenge alone. We must expand the BVCP planning geographic and time horizons, not because we can control either variable, but because our plans will be be more successful if we consider them.

I believe our greatest challenges in the next decade will be driven by the price of fuel. We must develop a more resilient economy capable of replacing essential agricultural and manufactured goods with local production capacity. Our workforce is the other indispensable community resource that will be harmed by escalating fuel prices. We need to make it possible for more of them to sleep in Boulder, not just work here. Their return to walkable, transit-utilizing, primarily self-sufficient neighborhoods with robust community and regional connectivity could save us. The BVCP should make it possible.

Upgrading Boulder’s Rental Housing

April 24, 2010

I have many friends on both sides of this issue, and I stand with my friends! Two weeks ago, I wrote in this space that we shouldn’t drill for expensive oil or harm the environment and people mining coal “until our energy system has been fine-tuned to waste none of it.” More than 50% of the dwelling units in Boulder are rental units (surprised?).

For most, there is a fundamental disconnect. The people who pay for utilities, the tenants, do not own the homes. Neither owner nor tenant has sufficient economic incentive to insulate, caulk, upgrade furnaces, refrigerators, washers & dryers, etc., on their own, or they’d have done so already. What you hear instead are horror stories, gaping holes in roofs, plywood doors, and $300 utility bills.

The entire community can benefit from more energy-efficient rental housing, but who should pay? And which fixes will provide the most bang for the buck? Will rent increases to cover a landlord’s costs be offset by lower utility bills for the tenants? Will higher rents simply cause tenants to move further away, increasing Boulder’s carbon footprint with longer commutes?

Government has to know its limitations – it is the trim tab, not the rudder. Shine a bright light on a market factor like energy efficiency. The players in the marketplace often do the rest. For starters, Council should pass full disclosure rules that reveal average utility costs. Smart tenants may then reward responsible owners. If they don’t, turn it up a notch.

Conservation Is a Conservative Value

April 10, 2010
By Ed Byrne

When an addict wants to threaten his dealer, “I’m looking for a new supplier” has no where near the impact as, “I’m clean and sober, and I intend to stay that way.” For the good of the planet and to strengthen our economy, we have to kick the carbon fuel habit. That such a commitment would rattle a few cages in the Middle East, Venezuela and West Virginia is just a side benefit. Such a commitment will also evidence a willingness to sacrifice to secure a better future, a quality noticeably lacking in the U.S. since WWII.

Our “burn” rate is alarming enough by itself, without bending environmental laws or incurring additional human and ecosystem health risks to feed our energy-consuming beast. We must create economic resiliency in our towns and cities, while hedging our generation’s GHG/Post-Peak Oil bet. Let’s plug every hole, insulate every wall and roof, calk every window (after replacing the porous ones), retire every gas guzzler, ride every bike and bus we can, build new walkable neighborhood centers, add multi-family homes along transit corridors, etc.

We know what needs to be done, but we’re whistling past the grave yard, hoping to put it off another day. Instead, let’s reduce our leaks and our profligate use of carbon fuels, before opening up the supply spigots further. Expensive, hard-to-find, environmentally risky oil and coal production should wait until our entire energy system has been fine-tuned to waste none of it. Conservation is a conservative value, isn’t it?