Renewable-energy bill clears Colo. Senate

Republicans worry about impact it will have on rural consumers

DENVER – Democrats pushed a renewable-energy bill through the Senate on Monday night despite Republican arguments it would cost rural consumers too much money.

Senate Bill 252 requires Tri-State Generation and Transmission to get 25 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2020. Tri-State supplies most rural electric cooperatives, and the co-ops currently have a 10 percent renewable-power mandate by 2020.

It passed the Senate 18-17, with two Democrats from Denver’s northern suburbs joining all Republicans in opposition.

Rural Republicans said the bill unfairly targets them to pay for pet Democratic projects.

“Why do you want to do this to my neighbors and me? Why take money from my family to give to your special-interest group friends?” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.

And Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, repeatedly asked sponsors “what planet” they were on, saying Front Range lawmakers don’t understand that Western Colorado is still in an economic crisis.

“What planet is it where everything is unicorns and rainbows and everybody’s OK again? Because that is not our reality,” Roberts said.

Urban utilities already have a higher standards. Xcel Energy, which serves Denver and many other Colorado locations, is on track to meet its 30 percent requirement within seven years.

Tri-State says the bill will cost it – and its customers – $3 billion, but Democrats said Xcel’s experience disproves Tri-State.

“It’s just nonsense,” said Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, sponsor of the bill. “Xcel’s been doing this for years. The state of Colorado has supported this for years.”

The bill caps price increases for consumers at 2 percent, the same cap as for Xcel. Recent increases in Xcel bills come from a large expansion at its Pueblo coal plant, not from wind or solar power, said Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville.

“The coal plant is costing Xcel customers three times the renewables,” Jones said.

Another sponsor, Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, said the bill can bring jobs to rural Colorado. A Pagosa Springs biomass plant is waiting to get started turning beetle-killed trees into power, but it needs a utility to buy the power, she said.

“Those are jobs. Those are people going in with trucks and chippers and saws,” Schwartz said.

Roberts, however, said she was upset at the attitude from Front Range Democrats.

“This is so frustrating to me that there is an assertion that you know better than us about what we can do,” Roberts said.

The bill appears to have a strong chance of passing. It is sponsored by the Legislature’s top two Democrats, and an energy policy aide to Gov. John Hickenlooper said the administration supports it.

Voters adopted the state’s first renewable-energy standard in 2004. Democrats and some Republicans expanded it under former Gov. Bill Ritter, but they put a lower mandate on rural cooperatives because of heavy opposition from the co-ops.

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