The Boulder Breakup

The Boulder Breakup

Kate Clark (Western Colorado University, USA) and Keriann F. Conroy (Western Colorado University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8559-6.ch006
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The City of Boulder, Colorado has for 10 years attempted to break up with its electric utility, Xcel Energy, in favor of forming its own municipal utility. Environmental proponents of the separation argue that a democratically accountable, local utility would be better suited to achieve Boulder's ambitious environmental and climate action goals. However, other environmentalists disagree and instead argue that Xcel Energy is a willing and capable environmental partner. This case examines this conflict in order to illustrate a divide in Boulder's environmental community, which mirrors a divide in the larger environmental movement, between structural environmentalists on the one hand and neoliberal environmentalists on the other. The case offers a review of the theoretical work that informs these conflicting perspectives. Finally, it analyzes structural and neoliberal sentiments expressed in the opinion pages of the city's newspaper in order to demonstrate how they intervene and shape Colorado electricity politics.
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Setting The Stage

This case examines the dichotomy between the neoliberal and structural approaches to environmentalism to better understand diverging strategies within the environmental movement broadly and how they appear within the realm of renewable energy advocacy specifically. The case proceeds as follows. The neoliberal-structural divide in the broader environmental movement is described in order to demonstrate the distinct characteristics of each approach, and their connections to two theories in environmental sociology. Next, the authors describe how environmentalists helped shape renewable electricity policy in Colorado before returning to the conflict in Boulder. Finally, environmental discourse is analyzed to demonstrate how structural and neoliberal arguments were mobilized in favor of and against a breakup between the City of Boulder and Xcel Energy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Taking: The expropriation of property, meaning the forced transfer of private property into government ownership.

Structuralism: An understanding of the causes of environmental problems as built into the social structure

Renewable Portfolio Standard: Sometimes called a renewable electricity standard, a regulation that requires a certain percentage of electricity to be sourced from renewable energy.

Utility: An entity that provides a service such as electrification.

Municipalization: The transfer of private assets to public ownership at the city level.

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