DENVER — Environmentalists love renewable energy, but it turns they love some renewables more than others.
Democrats rejected a Republican-sponsored bill last week to add all hydropower to the state’s renewable-energy standard, which includes Senate Bill 252, the 2013 law requiring rural power providers to meet a 20 percent green-energy threshold by 2020.
State Rep. Lori Saine (R-Firestone) said the defeat shows “that last year’s disastrous SB 252 is about preferred energy, not responsible energy.”
“Clearly, the Democrats are willing to betray their own principles and eliminate a clean, viable source of energy in order to pick winners and losers in the renewable energy industry,” said Saine in a statement.
The 8-4 party-line vote in the House Transportation and Energy Committee came after advocates of wind and solar power testified against the bill, saying their industries would struggle if they had to compete with hydropower, which already supplies 23 percent of the electricity to rural coops.
Under the state’s renewable-energy mandate, only small hydropower projects — those generating under 10 megawatts — can be counted toward the goal.
“This bill would directly reduce the amount of new wind, new solar, new biomass, and other new project types that would have otherwise been built to meet the state’s RES [renewable-energy standard],” said Sarah Propst, executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance.
She said that would result in fewer jobs from the state’s burgeoning solar and wind industries, which directly benefit from the renewable-energy mandate.
“If utilities are allowed to get credit for old hydro, perhaps out-of-state hydro, rural Colorado would miss out on hundreds of construction jobs, local property tax payments, lease payments to landowners, and all the other benefits of new renewable-energy projects being built,” said Propst.
Bruce Driver, consultant for Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates, argued that “big hydro” was “environmentally unfriendly” and had caused “significant environmental damage.”
That prompted a retort from state Rep. Perry Buck (R-Windsor) about the toxic waste left behind in 2012 by a now-bankrupt solar-energy firm: “Are you familiar with Abound Solar? Are you familiar with the damage they did in Weld County?”
Critics of the rural green-energy mandate say it will end up harming rural Colorado in the form of higher electricity prices and the loss of jobs in the coal industry, which now provides much of the region’s power.
“It is blatant hypocrisy how Democrats can force struggling citizens in rural Colorado to shoulder the burden of their excessive renewable-energy mandate and then determine that only a subjective and partial amount of hydroelectric power can be applied to meet the mandate,” said state Rep. Steve Humphrey (R-Severance) in a statement.
He concluded that the Democrats had “ratcheted up their war on rural Colorado.”
The Democrat-controlled state legislature unleashed a rural backlash last year, including a 51st State movement in the state’s northernmost counties, after the passage of SB 252 and three gun-control bills.
Amy Oliver Cooke, energy analyst for the free-market Independence Institute, said the Environmental Protection Agency and the state’s energy office agree that hydropower qualifies as clean energy.
She added that Colorado’s electricity rates jumped last year by 4 percent, almost twice as high as the national average.
“We’ve just forced up electricity prices in 10 of the poorest counties in the state of Colorado because the people at the state capitol refuse to accept hydro as a renewable source, even though everybody else does,” said Cooke on Colorado Public Television’s “The Devil’s Advocate.”