DENVER– House Democrats passed bill Tuesday to double the renewable energy standard on rural electric co-ops and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association – a move that Republicans said would hurt the economy and result in higher utility bills.
“Anybody who votes for this bill should be ashamed of themselves,” declared Rep. Lois Landgraf (R-Fountain). The measure passed, 37 to 27, on a party line vote.
The bill, as amended, would increase the renewable energy standard from 10 percent to 20 percent by 2020, a change that could cost as much as $4 billion.
Those costs will be ultimately passed to ratepayers in rural Colorado which is still struggling from the economic downturn.
Democrats say that the bill caps rate increase at 2 percent, but Republicans argue that the math doesn’t add up and that electric users will either pay more or put rural electric providers out of business.
Landgraf sited a study that states the cost of electricity in Colorado rose 20 percent compared to the national average of 8 percent since renewable energy standards were expanded in 2007. Under that measure, rural electric providers were mandated to achieve 10 percent green energy by 2020.
“I’m ashamed that other states use Colorado as a bad example,” said Landgraf of states that have taken a more conservative approach in utilizing renewable energy.
To make the bill more appealing, Democrat sponsors added methane gas recapture from coal mines and synthetic gas produced by waste to the state’s list of renewable energy sources. Earlier in the session and last year, Democrats killed bills to recognize these sources as renewable energy.
Senate Bill 252 is sponsored by Democrats Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Gail Schwartz of Snowmass Village, House Speaker Mark Ferrandino and Rep. Crisanta Duran, both of Denver. The bill does not affect the constituents in their districts.
Republicans argued that the cost would be exorbitant for families, farmers and ranchers as well as public schools in rural counties. The rate hikes, they said, would cause a loss of businesses and jobs in rural counties that continue to suffer double-digit unemployment – in some areas it’s 15 percent above the national average.
“Representative Duran and Speaker Ferrandino, shame on you!” thundered Rep. Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland). “…Shame on you for raising rates on rural families when this does not affect you or your constituents.
“Senate Bill 252 is a direct assault on rural Colorado,” declared DelGrosso, who added that it will hurt financially strapped rural schools and hospitals.
Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose) said the push for green energy will hurt small communities such as Nucla in Montrose County where the coal mining industry contributes millions of dollars in jobs and taxes.
“That community right now is on life support. When the gavel goes down and this bill passes, you have pulled the plug – that community is dead,” warned Coram.
Rep. Michael McLachlan (D-Durango) countered that not all rural communities on the Western Slope oppose the bill – some welcome the increased standard.
“I have not heard from my community the terrible damnation of renewables,” said McLachlan. “It’s good for our business and it’s going to create jobs on the Western Slope.”
Democrats claimed the bill will create new jobs in renewable energy – primarily wind and solar – and the measure offsets the rising costs of fossil fuels, primarily coal, oil and gas. Though renewable energy is heavily subsidized by the federal government, Democrats said wind and solar power will become the least expensive energy resource.
The passage of SB 252, Rep. Perry Buck (R-Windsor) said, “sends a message to rural Colorado that it’s more important to promote one sector of the economy, the renewable energy sector, on the backs of rural Coloradans.”
SB 252, Duran said, will provide “clean energy that will grow the economy, drive investment and protect our air, land, water and public health.”
“I’m not going to pit the rural areas against the urban areas in this state,” declared Duran. “I believe that we are in this all together.”