House passes power plan

GOP accuses
Dems of harming
rural economies

DENVER - House Republicans accused Democrats of waging war on rural Colorado when legislators voted Tuesday to increase the renewable-energy mandate for electricity cooperatives.

Senate Bill 252 passed 37-27, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans against. It requires Tri-State Generation and Transmission to get 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by the year 2020, up from a current 10 percent mandate by 2020. Tri-State supplies power to most rural electric cooperatives, and it generates most of its electricity from coal.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said the coal mine and power plant in Nucla will be the "sacrificial lamb" that will allow Tri-State to comply with SB 252.

Coram talked for 10 minutes about the depressed economy in Nucla and its sister town, Naturita.

"When the gavel goes down and this bill passes, you have pulled the plug. That community is dead," said Coram, whose district includes Montezuma County.

The towns thrived during the uranium boom, but a sagging uranium market has kept all the area's mines closed, included a few that Coram owns.

But Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, defended SB 252.

"Unlike some of the other rural legislators who have spoken here today, I have not heard from my community eternal damnation of renewables," McLachlan said. "I ran on the fact that I would improve renewable energy, and that's why I am standing here today in strong support of 252."

Rhetoric became heated during the unusually long three hours of speeches before the vote.

"You will not crucify us on the backs of windmills and solar panels, for if so, be assured, we will climb down and answer you at the ballot box," said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono.

Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, directly addressed the sponsor, Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, and said he should be ashamed.

"Shame on you for raising rates on rural families when this does not affect you or your constituents. Senate Bill 252 again is a direct assault on rural Colorado, and shame on you for running this piece of legislation."

But Ferrandino, D-Denver, pointed out that Denver consumers get their power from Xcel Energy, which is already subject to a 30 percent mandate. If Tri-State can't meet the mandate while keeping consumer price increases to 2 percent, then the bill allows the company to have a lower renewable standard.

Sponsors said wind, solar and biomass are promising industries.

"This is a good bill for Colorado. It's a bill that is going to create jobs, help ensure we have cleaner energy (and) help diversify our portfolio," Ferrandino said.

SB 252 began as a 25 percent mandate for renewable power, but the House weakened it to 20 percent.

The Senate has already passed SB 252, but the chamber must approve of House changes before the bill goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The governor dispatched an adviser to testify for the bill at its Senate hearing.