Dems reject delay of renewables mandate

DENVER – Democrats on Wednesday turned back an attempt to delay a renewable-energy mandate they passed last year.

Republicans have charged that the mandate is part of a “war on rural Colorado,” and the grievance hung heavy over Wednesday’s hearing for House Bill 1067 by Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton.

Her bill would have delayed until 2025 a mandate for rural electric cooperatives to get at least 20 percent of their power from renewable sources. Last year, Democrats imposed a 2020 deadline in a bill that passed with no GOP support.

The party lines didn’t shift for Wednesday’s vote. The House Transportation and Energy Committee killed Conti’s bill on an 8-5 vote.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said his electric bill has already gone up nearly 10 percent.

“We can’t afford it. What do you expect us all to do, move to the city?” Coram said.

But Bruce Driver of Western Resource Advocates said rural utility bills are going up for other reasons, like the price of coal, and the 2013 renewable power mandate has barely begun to take effect. It does not allow electric cooperatives to raise their prices more than 2 percent a year to meet the renewable standard.

Renewable energy proponents billed the mandate as a way to promote jobs at solar, wind and biomass companies.

“There’s a lot of jobs involved. House Bill 1067 would postpone those benefits for five years. Why would you want to do that?” Driver said.

Opponents doubt the jobs claim.

Rural cooperatives get most of their electricity from Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Both the co-ops and Tri-State say they can meet the mandate by 2020 as scheduled, but they will have to buy renewable energy credits from out-of-state wind farms.

“That does not create jobs in Colorado,” said Geoff Hier, a lobbyist for the Colorado Rural Electric Association. “We would like time to do this is in a more thoughtful manner.”

Coram was more blunt.

“To say we’re doing this to create jobs is absolutely bogus,” Coram said.

Both sides admitted that last year’s mandate contains no penalty if the rural cooperatives do not meet the 2020 deadline.

Urban utilities like Xcel Energy already have a 30 percent renewable energy mandate.

Conti’s bill was the second of at least three attempts Republicans have put forward to repeal or lessen the rural mandate. A Senate committee has already killed a bill to repeal it outright.