Renewable energy sector beats back GOP 'assault' on Democratic policies in State Legislature

By David O. Williams
Real AspenFebruary 10, 2011
Renewable energy backers, including state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, were buoyed Wednesday by the defeat of three bills floated by Colorado Republicans aimed at rolling back clean energy policies passed largely by Democrats last legislative session.

The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Wednesday struck down SB 71, which would have rolled back the state's renewable energy standard to 2004 levels, SB 58, which would have mandated so-called “least-cost” resource planning for electric utilities, and SB 113, which would have overturned the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act. That bipartisan bill requires Xcel Energy to shut down or retrofit several coal-fired power plants to run on cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable energy sources.

“We simply cannot and will not turn back the clock on the progress that has been made with our state's investment in renewable energy,” Schwartz said. “We aggressively pursued renewable energy economic development goals because our state is committed to a strong economy and healthy environment.”

Schwartz was blasted last election by coal- and oil-funded conservative political groups that skewered her for killing traditional energy jobs by supporting the clean-energy sector.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, sponsored SB 71 (pdf), which would have returned the state's renewable energy standard (RES) to the 10 percent by 2020 level approved by Colorado voters in 2004 under Amendment 37.

The legislature in 2007 upped the RES to 20 percent by 2020, meaning all publicly owned utilities have to generate 20 percent of their power using renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal. Then last year the RES was legislatively increased to 30 percent by 2020 – the second highest standard in the nation behind only California.

Mitchell told State Bill Colorado that previous legislatures overreached.

“Voters approved a substantial move toward alternative energy as a reasonable step to see if it's practical and cost-effective,” Mitchell said. “This green fantasy of pushing it up to 20 and then 30 percent slaps voters in the face. It punishes voters by replacing a modest experiment with an extreme one.”

Republicans in several states, including Montana, Missouri and Minnesota, have tried to roll back renewal energy standards, pointing to ongoing economic uncertainty and the higher cost of renewables. But proponents say wind and solar come with more stable pricing than coal, oil and gas, and that the regulatory framework in Colorado has helped to generate more than $2 billion in private-sector renewable energy investment and 17,000 new jobs over the past four years.

Stripping away that regulatory framework would remove cost certainty for the renewable energy sector and potentially cost the state private-sector investment and jobs. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, and Steve King, R-Grand Junction, sponsored the other two bills turned back in committee today.

“Though we oppose Sen. Mitchell's and Sen. Renfroe's misguided attempts to dismantle Colorado's rapidly growing new energy industry, their legislation provides the opportunity to highlight the many benefits this industry now provides to Colorado,” said Craig Cox, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance.

“Today's hearing on Sen. Mitchell's clean energy rollback legislation provides the opportunity for legislators to take stock of Colorado's beneficial renewable energy industry sector.”

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