DENVER – A controversial bill to increase mandated renewal energy to 25 percent squeaked through the Senate Tuesday by a one-vote margin after a marathon debate over the bill’s impact on rural Coloradans.
Though pitched as cost effective clean energy, Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) said the measure will reduce the state’s carbon footprint and counter climate change.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) thanked Schwartz for revealing the real reason for the bill and possibly why Democrats have rushed to pass the expanded renewable mandate, which was introduced a week ago.
“It’s concern over global warming… If that’s why, then lets put (that in the bill). And what is it?” said Lundberg.
Senate Bill 252 sponsors Schwartz and Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) worked with environmental lobbyists to craft the bill – but they did not consult the rural cooperatives and Tri-State.
Morse and Schwartz claimed the cost will be minimal on the rural electric users, but opponents asserted a much higher price tag of roughly $3 billion.
The bill would increase the renewable energy standard from 10 percent to 25 percent by 2020 for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and rural cooperatives owned by utility users, which provide electricity for more than 100,000 customers.
Morse argued that the bill to mandate expansion of renewable energy, primarily solar and wind, is more cost effective than “dirty fossil fuel” such as coal, oil and gas.
“We are seeing the climate impact is extraordinary in Colorado,” said Schwartz, citing increased wildfires, decreased snow pack, and extremely hot and dry conditions.
To reduce the state’s carbon footprint, Schwartz said SB 252 would add methane gas recapture from coal mines and synthetic gas produced by waste to the state’s list of acceptable renewable energy sources – if approved by Public Utilities Commission.
Morse claimed that the prices of fossil fuels are climbing each year in contrast to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, which are becoming more affordable.
Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) rebutted that assertion, noting that the production tax credit for wind energy expires on Dec. 31 and there is no guarantee that the federal government will again renew it.
“Let’s not go running around and trying to insist that it’s a cost effective means of energy for the people of Colorado,” declared Lundberg. The cost effectiveness of renewable energy, he said, should be determined by the free market – not manipulated by government mandates and financial incentives.
“Stop micromanaging and distorting the economic realities, and forcing this on the people of Colorado,” said Lundberg.
In 2004, voters approved a ballot initiative to require 10 percent energy renewable sources by 2015, but in 2010 the legislature increased the standard to 30 percent by 2020. However, that allowed Tri-State and rural electric cooperatives to maintain the 10 percent renewable energy goal.
Opponents said the bill has been declared a bad idea by nearly every major newspaper in the state. Numerous organizations have also opposed the bill, including Club 20 on the Western Slope, Action 22 in southeast Colorado, and CACI.
Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Colorado) said she has greater concern for the mandate’s devastating economic impact on counties in her district where most of the unemployment rates hover between 8.9 percent and 10.8 percent.
“That’s the painful reality in the Southwest corner of the state,” said Roberts, who implored Democrats to think beyond metro Denver.
“My concern for my community has me up here wondering what planet the people who are bringing this bill are on,” Roberts added.
Senate Bill 252 passed on a 18 – 17 vote, with Democrat Sens. Lois Tochtrop of Thornton and Mary Hodge of Brighton joining Republican Senators in opposition.