DENVER – The Democrat-controlled Senate will likely approve legislation Monday to include methane gas recapture from coal mines and synthetic gas produced by waste in state’s list of renewable energy sources. But that measure is attached to an expensive hike in the state’s renewable energy standard, one whose cost will be borne largely by rural Coloradans.
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 that provide electricity for 100,000 customers.
Sponsors of the bill, Sens. John Morse of Colorado Springs and Gail Schwartz of Snowmass, worked with environmental lobbyists to craft the bill – but they did not consult the rural cooperatives and Tri-State.
The two Democrat lawmakers claim the bill will help rural communities by creating jobs and lowering electric bills in the long run.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for rural Colorado,” declared Schwartz, who estimated 1,400 jobs would be created in the solar energy industry. “This is a winner for Colorado.”
Tri-State Chairman of the Board Rick Gordon said the mandate to produce 25 percent renewable energy within six years would cost between $2 and $4 billion.
Though the bill was amended to cap rate increases at 1 percent, Republicans argued that the cost would be exorbitant for families, farmers and ranchers in rural counties that have not recovered from the economic recession.
Senate Bill 252 “should be called ‘The Rural Foreclosure and Relocation Act,’” declared Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray).
“This bill sucks $5 million out of Yuma County each and every year,” said Brophy of his home county.
If enacted, he said the bill would cost Wray School District, which has just two buildings, about $30,000 a year.
“That money comes directly out of the classrooms,” said Brophy. “What program do you want to cut? What teacher do you want fired?”
Morse argued that Brophy’s math was wrong. The Senate President said that the prices of fossil fuels, primarily coal, oil and gas, are increasing each year – but costs will drop for renewable energy sources as wind and solar.
Brophy scoffed at Morse’s characterization and noted 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.
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 Tri-State and rural electric cooperatives were allowed to maintain the 10 percent renewable energy goal.
Sen. Randy Baumgardner (R-Cowdrey) said the bill is opposed by every county in the state except for Boulder, Clear Creek, Denver, Gilpin and Jefferson counties.
“It’s a war on rural Colorado,” declared Baumgardner.