'The pig in the python'

When people have asked me to describe this legislative session, often I find myself referring to the expression that it's been like "the pig in the python." There's so much being jammed through in a frantic hurry that it's caused a huge bulge like the pig swallowed by the python, eventually being digested down the python's body, but not pretty to watch in the meantime.

My legislative record demonstrates that I like to work on policy challenges more than political maneuvering. I can work with all, across the aisle and in my own party. My unease and, at times, my dismay with this session is that, on the big, divisive issues, these opportunities are too few and far between.

For example, the latest in the long series of controversial proposals includes another sizeable change in Colorado's renewable electricity standard. The title of SB 252 is not straightforward, but reads as "concerning measures to increase Colorado's renewable energy standard so as to encourage the deployment of methane capture technologies." However, the most significant change that the bill brings, if passed, isn't related to methane capture technologies, but is to force rural electric associations to increase by 150 percent, by 2020, the share of retail electricity from "approved" renewable energy sources, excluding hydropower.

Bear in mind that rural electric co-ops are member-owned cooperatives, governed by member elected boards. They aren't investor-owned utilities nor do they have the economies of scale available in the urban areas of the state. Remember, too, that in a state with a long and cherished history of local control, this bill imposes an expanded state mandate on local governments, school districts and co-op members, whether they can afford the increased costs or not.

To be clear, over the years, I've supported a number of legislative efforts seeking a broader range in energy options, including, but not limited to, renewable energy. At home, we have solar panels and, for nearly a decade, we've paid an additional charge on our utility bill to support more electricity from renewable energy. But, we make these choices as consumers, not because of mandates.

I've heard from constituents on both sides of this bill, but most compelling to me are those who point out what the forced increased costs will mean to them personally. A number of farmers and ranchers point out that they use or have considered using solar energy, but that sometimes the costs and technology available render that energy source unaffordable. I also can't ignore that unemployment in many counties in my senate district is as high as 10.8 percent, well above the statewide average of 7.6 percent.

Editorial boards from across the state have expressed opposition to the bill, with the Pueblo Chieftain referring to this legislation as the "rural dagger" that is a "direct assault on rural Colorado." My hometown paper has been silent so far, but even the Denver Post has opined that "the financial uncertainty and the potential economic impact on rural residents and businesses" should cause the bill supporters to rethink this proposal.

This bill was introduced late in the session, without key stakeholder input from the rural cooperatives, and will be a drag on economic recovery at the worst possible time for rural Coloradans, especially those on low or fixed incomes. I can't support it.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado's General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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