DENVER—Critics declared the “war on rural Colorado” alive and well Friday after House Democrats shot down two bills this week designed to ease the economic hit from last year’s renewable energy mandate on rural counties.
“RIP bi-partisan cooperation,” said a statement from the 51st State Initiative on Facebook. “No real surprise there I suppose. Rural vs. Urban divide is alive and well.”
The 51st State movement launched last year as part of the backlash against Senate Bill 252, which requires rural electricity cooperatives to generate 20 percent of their energy from renewables like solar and wind by 2020.
Rural Coloradans say SB 252, signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper after passing with no Republican votes, is already resulting in increased electricity costs at a time when many counties are struggling with high unemployment and business closures.
“I’m here today to hope that the war on rural Colorado is over and that we can have a spirit of bipartisanship,” said Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid, who testified Thursday in favor of the bills to soften the mandate. “I understood that was going to happen this year in this session.”
Even so, the House Transportation and Energy Committee defeated Thursday on an 8-5 party-line vote a bill introduced by state Rep. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction) to scale back the mandate to 15 percent by 2020.
The day before, the same committee killed a bill by state Rep. Kathleen Conti (R-Littleton) that would have extended the deadline for the 20 percent renewable-energy mandate to 2025. The measure would have also given rural-energy cooperatives 12 years, instead of seven, to double their current energy supplies.
Conti said the Democrats’ refusal to consider easing the burden on rural Colorado shows that they’re more interested in “advancing their extreme liberal agenda rather than determining what’s right for Colorado.”
“I heard a lot of concerning testimony about increasing energy costs from people in rural Colorado,” said Conti in a statement. “But what was most alarming was hearing that Democrats never once consulted the rural electric associations during the drafting of their law to determine how much time would be needed to reach a 20 percent renewable energy mandate.”
Meanwhile, environmental groups, which had lobbied hard to keep SB 252 in its current form, praised the Democrats for refusing to compromise on the renewable-energy requirement.
“Fred Flintstone was a charming character, but the cavemen and dinosaurs died out long ago,” said Conservation Colorado executive director Pete Maysmith in a statement. “So must our grip on dirty energy sources that harm our climate, public health and environment.”
Critics of SB 252 said the committee’s bill-killing demonstrates that the largely urban Democratic legislature remains unmoved by the concerns of rural residents.
“Democrats have double-downed on their war against rural Colorado despite their talks of compromise just weeks ago,” said Kelly Maher, Compass Colorado executive director. “When given the opportunity, Democrats vote down any proposal to repeal, delay or reduce the harmful impacts of Senate Bill 252.”
That bill, coupled with three gun-control measures passed in 2013, touched off an outcry that saw three recall drives against Democratic legislators and prompted five of 11 counties to vote in favor of exploring the idea of forming a new state.
Since SB 252 was signed into law, Scott said Western Slope residents report a nearly 10 percent jump in their energy bills.
“Forcing some of our state’s poorest counties to comply with these extreme renewable energy expectations shows the Democrat’s complete disregard for rural Colorado,” said Scott.