A move to bolster Colorado’s renewable energy standard by requiring an increase in renewable power for rural electric cooperatives was approved late Monday by a state legislative committee after nearly seven hours of debate.
The target of the legislation, which would require that 25 percent of electricity come from renewable sources, is not the small, rural cooperatives but Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
Tri-State, Colorado’s second-largest utility, provides wholesale electricity to 18 rural cooperatives serving more than a million customers and currently has a 10 percent renewable power requirement.
“Tri-State provides about 20 percent of the state’s electricity, but it really hasn’t had to meet the same standards as other big utilities,” said John Nielsen, energy program director at Western Resource Advocates an environmental policy center.
The bill – sponsored by Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver – passed on a 3-2 party line vote in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
Colorado’s two investor-owned utilities – Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy – must by state law generate 30 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Tri-State and rural electric cooperative officials told the committee that the 25 percent target by 2020 was asking for too much to fast.
“If enacted will cost Tri-State between $2 and $4 billion in the next six years,” Rick Gordon, chairman of Tri-State’s board, testified.
At $3 billion, Gordon estimated that it could boost rates 20 percent.
Ron Binz, the former chairman of the state Public Utilities Commission and an industry analyst, disputed Tri-State’s cost estimates, noting that Xcel has paid much less for its wind power.
Tri-State’s figures were “incredible,” Binz said. “As in not believable.”
The bill was strongly supported by environmental groups and the renewable energy industry, which said that it would boost investment and jobs in the state.
With Xcel projected to meet its renewable standard through 2028 and other utilities meeting their targets, renewable energy has stalled in Colorado.
In 2011, Colorado was fifth in the solar installations, but was 12th in 2012, said T.J Slocum, regional manager for REC Solar, a solar installation company.
“We’ve been a leader. We’ve slipped,” he said.
The officials from rural cooperatives and rural counties called the bill “a war on rural Colorado.”
“I own a bar. I’d like you to pass a law that everyone has to drink 25 percent more. Everyone is feathering their own nest,” Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said.
The bill also includes a provision to count fugitive methane emissions from coal mines as eligible for being included as a renewable energy resource.
State and federal environmental officials as well as environmental groups have been trying to promote efforts to capture the gas which is an air pollutant.
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