DENVER–Rural Coloradans lost a tug-of-war with their urban counterparts Wednesday as Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a divisive renewable-energy mandate expected to increase electricity costs for farming and ranching communities.
Hickenlooper approved Senate Bill 252 as part of a marathon ceremony Wednesday in which he signed into law all 52 bills remaining on his desk. Despite veto campaigns aimed at several bills, the Democratic governor did not veto any of the 440 bills sent to him from the 2013 General Assembly.
The decision to sign S.B. 252 is among Hickenlooper’s most controversial since he signed three gun-control bills in March. As he did then, Hickenlooper accompanied the move with the release of a signing statement designed to mitigate the damage by offering an olive branch to the bill’s foes.
The governor also issued an executive order creating an advisory committee to the Colorado Energy Office on the effectiveness of S.B. 252.
“The reasons for signing the legislation outweigh the reasons for vetoing the bill, but this bill is imperfect,” said Hickenlooper in a release. “Some of the concerns raised during the legislative process were not given due consideration. Top among these concerns are the feasibility of the implementation timetable and consumer protections.”
In his signing statement, the governor said he would support additional legislation in 2014 aimed at addressing concerns with the bill, such as by allowing cooperatives to pool renewable energy credits.
“In the coming legislative session, we will support other elements of that failed compromise,” said Hickenlooper. “We have assurance from the leadership of the General Assembly that this bill will draw bipartisan support next year.”
Environmental groups celebrated the signing of the bill, which doubles the renewable-energy requirement for energy cooperatives serving rural customers from 10 to 20 percent by 2020.
“We applaud Governor Hickenlooper for signing significant legislation into law which will expand clean renewable energy to more of Colorado,” said Pete Maysmith, Conservation Colorado executive director. “This law will help foster the development of homegrown energy and incentivize energy sources that benefit our fight against climate change.”
The bill caps retail cost increases to 2 percent, but foes argue that the bill will require the cooperatives to spend as much as $3 billion on additional infrastructure, an expense that consumers will ultimately end up absorbing.
“Hold on to your wallets, rural Colorado. Senate Bill 252 will cost the average farm family thousands of dollars in higher energy costs and force rural electric associations to pay billions of dollars to comply with the Democrats’ new energy mandate,” said state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) in a statement.
“Forcing higher costs on our state’s farmers and ranchers is wrong,” said Sonnenberg. “The Governor is picking winners in the energy economy, and forcing the families and business owners who put food on our table and support more than 170,000 jobs in Colorado to pay the price.”
The Rural Economic Action Alliance launched in April a massive veto campaign, Keep Electricity Affordable, calling the bill part of a “war on rural Colorado.” At the same time, HIckenlooper was under pressure to appease environmentalists angry with his moves to kill anti-drilling legislation.
Officials at Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which serves 18 energy cooperatives and about 20 percent of Colorado, had urged the governor to veto the bill and work toward reaching a compromise in the 2014 legislative session.
“Regrettably for rural Coloradans, the Governor chose to sign a flawed bill into flawed law,” said Tri-State general manager and executive vice-president Ken Anderson.
Sean Paige, acting state director of Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, predicted the signing would have political consequences for the governor.
“SB-252 was hatched as part of a backroom deal between Front Range liberals, professional green extremists and a few niche companies that have learned to game the ‘green energy’ racket,” said Paige in a statement. “That Hickenlooper couldn’t muster a veto on this one isn’t something rural Colorado will soon forget.”