June 20, 2013

Colorado Renewable Energy Law Gets Mixed Reactions

Early this month, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a controversial bill that doubles the renewable energy target for rural electric cooperatives.

The new law requires cooperatives to supply 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 — up from a previous requirement of 10 percent by 2020 — among other things.

Noting that the bill was “imperfect,” Hickenlooper also issued an executive order to set up a panel to evaluate the feasibility of the compliance timeline and the cost.
The bill was hotly contested in the legislature, with rural cooperatives, agricultural groups and Republican lawmakers pitted against environmentalists and renewable energy companies in debates. And in the wake of the signing, it continues to create division, though many in this region support it.

One of the law’s major opponents is Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which supplies electricity to the local energy cooperative San Miguel Power Association.

Jim Van Someran, a spokesperson for Tri-State, said the company expects compliance with the law to be incredibly costly and burdensome, and the negative effects will ultimately fall on power customers. 

“Despite our best efforts to explain the negative overall impact this is going to have on rural Colorado, [Hickenlooper] chose to sign it anyway,” he said. 

Van Someran said it’s too early to know precisely how the law will affect Tri-State, but preliminary calculations put the costs of compliance, including the development of renewable energy infrastructure, at $2 billion over 20 years.

And because of the way Tri-State’s business and rates are structured, he said, those costs will likely be passed on to its users, “the rural Coloradoans who are at the end of the line.”

The bill was written with Tri-State directly in mind, he added, but lawmakers excluded the power supplier from the conversation.

“We were dismissed every time we reached out to them,” he said. “So we weren’t part of the process at all in putting this legislation together. It’s very troubling.”

Rube Felicelli, president of the San Miguel Power Association Board, disputed the notion that all the costs will be passed on to local customers — the law allows rural cooperatives to add a monthly surcharge due to the standards, but caps it at 2 percent of a customer’s bill.

The SMPA board took a neutral stance on the bill, but Felicelli said that personally, he is in favor of the law — it furthers the goals that many of SMPA’s members have. 

“I think it’s going to open up more opportunity for more renewable projects, and particularly more opportunity in the area,” Felicelli said.

Felicelli said he did have some issues with the bill, but thinks they can be ironed out with the work of the panel. Hickenlooper is bringing a diverse group — including representatives from Tri-State, rural cooperatives and the environmental and renewable energy community — to the table, Felicelli said, “and I applaud him for that.”

Other renewable energy advocates are praising the law.

“I think the governor made a very calculated and wise decision,” said Chris Myers, a Telluride town council member and renewable energy proponent. Myers said that while many details still need to be worked out, he believes that it’s an attainable goal. 

“It’s ambitious, but achievable,” he said. 

And Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith said Tri-State’s complaints “are overwrought, and they don’t match up with the facts.”

Maysmith too pointed to the cap that is meant to protect energy consumers, and said that in the long run, this law will likely have cost benefits because it creates less reliance on fossil fuels, which are very volatile. 

“I think it’s a terrifically exciting day for Colorado,” he said. “It’s going to mean more wind, more solar and more jobs … We know that Coloradoans want to look forward to a cleaner energy future, and not look backwards to dirty fossil fuels.”

Many remain opposed to the law, including the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Colorado Mining Association, Colorado Cattlemen Association, Colorado Corn Growers Association and several Republican lawmakers.

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