The Colorado Senate has approved a proposal to raise the state’s renewable energy mandate to 25 percent for rural electric cooperatives.
Friday’s vote came after hours of debate.
SB 252 – sponsored by state Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver – would require rural co-ops with more than 100,000 meters, and utilities that generate and supply electricity on behalf of member cooperatives, to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.
The Senate still must take a third and final vote on the bill.
The bill would affect the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, based in Westminster, which serves 18 member cooperatives in Colorado, and Sedalia’s Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA), Colorado’s only electric cooperative with more than 100,000 meters.
Both IREA and Tri-State already are covered under a 2007 bill that requires they get 10 percent of their electricity supplies from renewable energy sources by 2020. IREA serves customers in several counties, including Douglas County, south of Denver.
Colorad’’s investor-owned utilities, such as Xcel Energy Inc. (NYSE: XEL), must meet a 30 percent goal by 2020.
Opponents of the bill have argued that rural utilities are working toward the existing 10 percent standard and it would cost billions of dollars to comply with the proposed 25 percent goal by 2020.
But supporters say using more renewable energy across the state would help Colorado remain a leader in the clean energy sector.
“Colorado has become a national leader in renewable energy, but the economic and health benefits of investments in technologies, such as wind and solar, are not shared by all Coloradans,” Morse, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement late Friday.
“Increasing the market for clean energy for our state’s largest cooperative utilities will ensure our rural utilities are working hard for rural families and businesses. It will be good for our air, individual pocketbooks, and the bottom-line for businesses,” Morse said.
The bill allows the cooperatives to raise the amount they can charge customers’ bills, from 1 percent to 2 percent of the monthly bill, to help pay for new renewable energy source to meet the mandate.
If the standard cannot be met with money raised from the 2 percent surcharge, then the utility doesn’t have to meet the goal, according to a statement from the Senate Majority office late Friday.
The bill also allows projects that use methane from active and inactive coal mines, or gas produced by municipal solid waste to generate electricity, to count toward the 25 percent goal. The proposal also gives extra credit for projects completed by the end of 2015.
But Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey said late Friday that the power generator remains opposed to the bill.
“We continue to move forward to meet the reasonable requirements of the existing renewable standard for electric cooperatives,” Boughey said via email.
“The bill’s short 6-1/2 year implementation [by 2020] time frame is unprecedented, unachievable and irresponsible. This unworkable bill demonstrates the sponsors’ failure to engage those affected and shows a fundamental lack of understanding of electric utilities,” Boughey said.
Boughey said if the bill passes as proposed, Tri-State would have to spent up to $4 billion in the next 20 years on renewable power projects as well as natural gas power plants to back up renewable energy projects and new transmission lines to connect the new plants to customers.
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