Colorado’s renewable energy goal for rural cooperatives will double to 20 percent by 2020 under a controversial bill signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The governor had been under pressure from rural power utilities, Republicans and others to veto the measure.
Also today, Hickenlooper signed an executive order directing the Colorado Energy Office to convene a committee to see if the bill should be tweaked during the 2014 legislative session.
In a flurry of 52 bill signings, Hickenlooper signed into law Senate Bill 252, sponsored by state Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.
The law requires rural co-ops with more than 100,000 meters, and utilities that generate and supply electricity on behalf of member co-ops, to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable-energy sources by 2020.
The bill also allows rural cooperatives to add a monthly surcharge, up to 2 percent of a customer’s monthly bill, to help pay for projects needed to meet the goal.
Hickenlooper signed the bill into law in his office at the state Capitol, surrounded by legislative supporters as well as representatives from the renewable energy industry and environmental advocacy community.
The law will affect the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, which serves customers in a territory south of Denver, and Westminster’s Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which provides power to 18 member electric cooperatives in Colorado in addition to serving customers in Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico.
City-owned utilities, such as Colorado Springs, will continue to have a goal of getting 10 percent of the power they provide to customers coming from renewable energy sources by 2020.
The bill was fought hard during the 2013 legislative session, with debates lasting for hours at committee hearings and on the House and Senate floor.
Legislative Republicans were quick to criticize the governor, a Democrat, after he signed the measure.
“Senate President John Morse initiated the urban attack on rural Colorado when he sponsored SB ,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. “With his signature, Governor Hickenlooper joins Morse in perhaps the largest unfunded government mandate in Colorado history.”
“Today, the governor put special interests above Colorado’s working families and business owners,” said House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs. “Senate Bill 252 was rammed through the Legislature, without any bipartisan support, by urban lawmakers who do not understand the devastating impacts this bill will have on rural Colorado families and business owners. Coloradans shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping the lights on.”
Hickenlooper said he had misgivings about signing 252, but ultimately decided that the goal of boosting the amount of renewable energy used in Colorado superseded concerns.
“I had misgivings,” Hickenlooper told a group of reporters who assembled Wednesday. “I think there were challenges around the bill.”
Hickenlooper said he heard concerns from opponents that the bill set the renewable energy goal too high for rural cooperatives, and that customers would end up paying far higher bills for electricity.
But he also said he believed the law has escape clauses in the form of the 2 percent cap on rate increases to pay for projects needed to meet the 20 percent standard.
“If that’s true, if they [the rural cooperatives] can’t achieve this by 2020 without a tremendous rate increase, they don’t have to,” Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper said the cost of the bill could add $2 a month to typical customers bill, and up to $40 a month for agriculture customers who use power for irrigation systems.
He also signed an executive order Wednesday that calls for the Governor’s Energy Office to convene an eight-person panel to evaluate if the 2020 time line is feasible for the rural cooperatives, and if consumers are protected by the 2 percent rate cap.
The panel, which includes representatives from Tri-State, rural cooperatives and the environmental and renewable energy community, will advise the office’s director on whether legislation should be proposed to tweak the law during the 2014 session.
“If they find that they can’t do it [meet the goal] for 2 more years [until 2022], then they’ll come back and recommend that and we’ll tweak it,” he said.
In a three-page letter detailing his reasons for signing 252, Hickenlooper said the bill’s primary sponsors agreed to “take up legislation making necessary changes to the law” if the panel “raises legitimate concerns” about the timetable and rate cap.
Hickenlooper said boosting the use of renewable energy in Colorado will cut customers’ utility bills, and increase jobs in the state’s renewable energy industry.
Tri-State, whose executives had said the cost of meeting the higher renewable energy goal would be in the billions of dollars, decried Hickenlooper’s approval of 252.
“We shared with the governor how we are meeting our obligation under the existing renewable energy mandate and how the bill introduces new risks for our existing facilities and renewable projects that were planned prior to the introduction of the bill,” said Ken Anderson, general manager and executive vice president of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
“Regrettably for rural Coloradans, the Governor chose to sign a flawed bill into flawed law,” Anderson said.
But supporters said the bill will keep Colorado in the national lead for renewable power.
“It’s more wind, more solar, more jobs, and it continues the march down the path to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of the Conservation Colorado environmental advocacy group.
“Once we put renewable energy into place it has proven to be cost competitive, popular with customers and we see economic benefits in terms of lower power costs and job creation,” he said.
Other elements of the bill include:
• Repealing an in-state multiplier in Colorado’s renewable energy law that gave extra credit for renewable energy projects built in Colorado. The multiplier had been the target of a lawsuit.
• Provides extra credit for renewable energy projects operational by the end of 2015.
• Allows projects that capture methane or burn solid waste to count toward the goal, as long as the electricity produced is “greenhouse gas-neutral.”
• Requires rural cooperatives serving less than 100,000 customer meters to get 1 percent of their annual electric sales from distributed generation projects, such as rooftop solar panels, or by producing energy in facilities located near the end users. Cooperatives serving less than 10,000 meters are required to get 0.75 percent (less than 1 percent) from distributed generation.
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