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The bills we'll pay

As Gov.-elect Bill Ritter and the expanded Democratic majority at the statehouse prepare to take power in January, many uncertainties remain about their legislative intentions. But here’s a safe bet: They will – they must – contrive to boost your energy bills.

They have no choice, really, if they are to be faithful to their word.

Ritter talked about establishing a “new energy economy” so often during the campaign that it might as well have been his mantra. Almost every Democratic candidate for the legislature seemed to follow suit, as did many Republicans. As a result, there is talk already of doubling the current renewable-energy mandate for the state from 10 percent by 2015 to 20 percent – and it’s nearly inconceivable that Ritter won’t go along.

So why is this higher mandate likely to hike your bills? Because when government creates an artificial market by fiat, shortages almost always follow (of turbines for wind power, for example), thus boosting the mandate’s cost. For that matter, if all forms of renewable energy could compete on their own, they wouldn’t need a mandate in the first place.

At the moment, wind power is reasonably competitive (so long as it retains its huge federal tax credit), and solar is not. But most lawmakers who glibly endorse a higher renewable mandate probably don’t realize that even wind power is not necessarily a one-to-one offset for traditional forms of power. You need backup capacity somewhere that can be ramped up when energy needs are high and the wind isn’t blowing. And the backup becomes a trickier, more costly burden as renewables’ share rises.

But there are steps Ritter and lawmakers can take if they’re truly interested in minimizing the impact on consumers:

1. Don’t micromanage the makeup of the 20 percent mandate. Don’t stipulate what portion must be solar, for example, as Amendment 37 did when it created the present law. Solar requires major subsidies and tends to benefit well-off ratepayers who add solar panels to their homes.

2. Include a cost cap in the legislation, as Amendment 37 did.

3. Give electrical cooperatives the freedom to opt out (also in imitation of 37).

If renewable advocates fail to do these things, we’ll know where consumers rank among their priorities – whatever happy talk they may spout about a “new” economy.

Unsound arm-twisting

In Ritter’s 51-page The Colorado Promise, which lays out his goals for the next four years, a sentence all but jumps out in the chapter titled “New Energy Economy.”

“On a broader level,” Ritter says, “I will encourage Colorado’s citizens, businesses, local governments, and even public retirement funds to invest in Colorado-based alternative energy and energy efficiency businesses and programs.”

Even public retirement funds? Good grief: These are pensions we’re talking about. The last thing fund managers need is for a governor to be pressuring – er, encouraging – them to invest in ways that satisfy a political agenda rather than earn the highest return.

A Lott not to be thankful for

When Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott declared four years ago that “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years” if Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat, many conservatives and libertarians were as horrified as any liberal.

More horrified, actually, since Lott was Senate majority leader of the party more closely associated, at least in theory, with their own political values. And yet here was this GOP leader, at Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, praising a failed movement that represented everything ugly and reactionary about the old South.

Talk about an embarrassment.

Last week, of course, Republican senators elevated Lott again to their leadership, this time to the No. 2 post, in what ranks as the single most jarring reaction to the GOP’s midterm rout. But at least Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, who defended Lott in 2002, had the good sense this time to buck the majority and support Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander for the post.

Vincent Carroll, editor of the editorial pages, writes On Point several times a week. Reach him at carrollv@RockyMountainNews.com.

About Vincent Carrol

Vincent Carroll, editor of the editorial pages, is a longtime resident of Denver whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s. He has also been a syndicated columnist for the Newspaper Enterprise Association.