Two local Republican lawmakers are worried that a Democratic senator is planning to hijack their measure to help bring high-voltage transmission lines to rural Colorado.
And even if Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, isn’t trying to make HB1150 his own, Sen. Ken Kester and Rep. Cory Gardner said they are afraid the freshman senator, and son of former Gov. Roy Romer, will lead an effort to kill their measure or amend it beyond recognition.
Currently, the measure would create a new authority with bonding powers to help renewable energy companies build the transmission lines they need to get that electricity to the state’s power grid.
Kester and Gardner said they got the idea for the measure primarily from Baca County commissioners, who have been searching for several years for ways to attract wind-power plants to their Southeastern Colorado county.
Romer, however, said the state has enough authorities, and the Kester-Gardner bill doesn’t do enough to achieve what the two Republicans have in mind locally.
“We like aspects of it, but don’t know that it’s the complete deal,” said Romer, whose more well-known father grew up in Holly, east of Lamar. “My concerns are that we’re already up to six authorities in the state, and my concern is whether creating a new one is appropriate or rather giving that power to an existing authority.
“Currently, it doesn’t really help Baca County do what they need to do, so we need to rework that bill or we need to find the appropriate substitution for that bill to actually achieve something,” he said. “After we get a renewable standard portfolio built, we’re going to build a bipartisan business plan. But right now that (Kester-Gardner) bill doesn’t do enough to get the job done.”
As a result, Gardner, R-Yuma, whose district includes Kiowa and Crowley counties, has delayed the measure from a final House vote until today because of fears it will be killed in the Senate because of partisan politics.
Gardner said the measure allows power companies to build the infrastructure they need without costing taxpayers a dime. “People on the Eastern Plains are the last ones to create new bureaucracy,” Gardner said. “These people don’t want new bureaucracy, they want action, and by coming to us they felt a strong need to create this.”
The measure already received preliminary approval in the Colorado House and unanimous support in a House committee. Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter even touted it in his first State of the State speech to the Legislature soon after taking office in January.
Even a coalition of environmental and renewable energy groups favors the measure.
Craig Cox, executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance, a wind-energy trade association, said the measure is an important part of a bigger package of renewable energy measures before the Legislature.
“I think the Gardner bill will take things the last mile, from individual smaller projects that might need financing,” Cox said. “What the Gardner bill also does is help focus attention on the whole issue of transmission lines in the state.”
With all that support, Gardner and Kester said they are confused by the Senate Democrats’ problems with it. And that’s led both lawmakers to believe that politics are taking precedent over policy.
“We talk about sharing ideas and working together toward a common goal for a better Colorado, so it shouldn’t end up being who’s got a monopoly on an idea,” Gardner said. “By the counties coming to us, they felt a strong need to create this. So, if they felt it could have been done somewhere else, they would have been the first to say it. This is clearly something that transcends any political boundaries and is about making things happen.”
Romer, however, said the measure would only provide false hope to rural parts of the state. He said Wyoming created a similar authority that’s done little to help build needed transmission lines.
Still, Romer said he’s committed to Kester that he will work with him on the measure. Kester, however, said he’s growing increasingly skeptical about that commitment.
“I don’t think he’s the one with the authority to say who’s going to be the sponsor of a bill,” the Las Animas senator said. “I don’t know what the opposition is, and he (Romer) doesn’t tell me these things. He says, ‘We’re going to work it out, don’t worry about it.’ Well, he’s got me starting to worry about it.”
Staffers of the three politicians will meet soon to set up a meeting to try to reach an agreement on the bill.
Renewable energy bills
Here is a listing of some of the renewable energy measures working through the Legislature:
HB1150, introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, would create the Colorado Renewable Energy and Infrastructure Authority to help small power companies get financing to build transmission lines.
The measure, which awaits final approval in the Colorado House, allows the authority to issue and sell revenue bonds and to make loans for such projects.
SB100 introduced by Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Denver, and Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, to allow power companies to begin to recoup from rate payers the cost of building high-voltage transmission lines while construction is under way.
Under current law, companies cannot recoup those costs until a project is completed, putting a damper on their willingness to invest in infrastructure. The measure received unanimous approval Wednesday in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee.
HB1281, introduced by Reps. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, Rob Witwer, R-Evergreen, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, to double the renewable energy standard of 10 percent by 2015 set in Amendment 37 that voters approved in 2004.
That standard requires power companies to increase the amount of electricity they generate from such renewable sources as wind, solar and biomass.
The measure was introduced into the House on Tuesday.
SB91, introduced by Schwartz and Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, to create a 16-member task force to study and map existing renewable energy plants and transmission lines, and plot where new ones can be located.
The measure, which calls on the task force to meet over the summer and report back to the Legislature by Sept. 1, cleared the Senate agriculture committee earlier this month.
HB1228, introduced by Gardner and Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, would promote the use of flexible-fuel vehicles used by the state, encourage more renewable energy research and offer a tax credit to anyone who uses renewable energy.
The measure awaits a hearing in the House Transportation Committee.
HB1145, introduced by Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, and Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, calls on the State Board of Land Commissioners to open up state land to be used to develop renewable energy.
The measure, which was approved by the House Transportation & Energy Committee on Thursday, gives the board authority to enter into agreements to build renewable energy plants.
By Charles Ashby
The Pueblo Chieftain
9 February 2007
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