Hickenlooper 'still reviewing legislation' to increase renewable standard for rural electric co-ops

Dems, environmentalists already counting SB 252 in the win column

By David O. Williams
Real AspenMay 11, 2013
One major piece of legislation on the majority Democratic agenda this session – Senate Bill 252 aimed at increasing the state’s renewable energy standard -- is still swinging in the wind.

Democrats on Thursday told the Denver Post they don’t expect Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto any of the bills currently awaiting his signature, including SB 252. But many Republicans – and a majority of the state’s rural electric associations (REAs) want him to kill the bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, and Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.

On Thursday, Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown told Real Vail that the governor is “still reviewing the legislation” and has not made a decision on whether to sign it into law for veto it. However, he added that the governor must act by June 7.

SB 252 (pdf) would essentially double the amount of electricity that REAs are required to obtain from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar by the year 2020. The bill would also set a 1-percent distributed energy requirement -- meaning small renewable power projects near users that don’t require expensive transmission lines -- and it provides incentives for coal-mine methane projects like the one near Paonia developed in part by the Aspen Skiing Company.

Currently, member-owned co-ops such as Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy must get 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, and SB 252 ups that to 20 percent by 2020 for the state’s largest REA’s (100,000 meters or more) and the utilities that provide power to the majority of co-ops – namely Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

Tri-State provides power to 18 of the 22 co-ops in Colorado, as well as REAs in New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska. It’s been waging a campaign to defeat the bill called Keep Electricity Affordable, including TV, radio, print and internet ads.

“Gov. Hickenlooper is now the last line of defense for affordable electricity in Colorado,” the group’s website reads. “After Front Range legislators rammed through a bill to increase electricity costs by billions of dollars for rural Coloradans, the focus turns to the governor. We need the governor to represent the entire state by vetoing Senate Bill 252, with its unreasonable mandates and unfair economic burdens.”

Co-sponsor Schwartz represents a large swath of the state’s Western Slope, including the Aspen and Vail areas, which are served by Holy Cross Energy. The local co-op is currently on pace to exceed the 20 percent threshold by 2020, and it’s one of the four co-ops in the state that don’t buy power from Tri-State.

Instead, 55,000-member Holy Cross gets its electricity from Xcel Energy, which is on pace to meet a state mandate of 30 percent renewable power by 2020. Xcel provides about two-thirds of the electricity to the entire state.

The state’s largest REA – the 140,000-member Intermountain Rural Electric Association between Denver and Colorado Springs – strongly opposes the bill, taking a shot at Schwartz in its newsletter Watts and Volts (pdf):

“The bill also exempts Holy Cross Energy, which serves constituents of key sponsor Sen. Gail Schwartz,” the newsletter reads. “[Her] constituents will not be impacted by the bill and no doubt would object to inclusion. This is classic ‘good for thee but not for me’ legislation.”

The publication neglects to mention that the Holy Cross board, acting at the urging of its membership, voted in 2004 to set a self-imposed renewable target of 20 percent by 2015 and is now ahead of that pace. And Holy Cross is only exempted because it gets all of its power from Xcel, which is held to a much higher renewable standard.

Democrats, many of whom are still steaming over Hickenlooper’s lack of support for tighter oil and gas drilling regulations, are clearly already counting SB 252 as a win.

“The 2013 legislative session just concluded [on May 8]. I am extremely proud of what your State House Democrats have done for Colorado over the past 120 days,” House Speaker Mark Ferrandino wrote to Dems on Thursday. “Because of your support, we have passed historic legislation that will invest taxpayer dollars in creating Colorado jobs, expand renewable energy, close tax loopholes for big corporations, and increase funding for education.”

Environmental groups on Friday were also counting the higher RES in the win column, with Conservation Colorado pointing out that Colorado was the only state in the nation to expand renewable energy in 2013.

“Coloradans should be proud of the state’s leadership on renewable energy as we continue to serve as a model for the rest of the country,” said John Nielsen, energy program director for Western Resource Advocates. “This bill will strengthen our rural economy, make our families healthier, provide cleaner air and water, and protect our climate.”

Hickenlooper signed 18 bills into law on Friday -- including a landmark but highly partisan election-reform bill -- but the list did not include SB 252.

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