DENVER – House Republicans accused Democrats of waging war on rural Colorado when legislators voted Tuesday to increase the renewable-energy mandate for electricity cooperatives.
But Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, defended Senate Bill 252, which requires that electric cooperatives get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by the year 2020, up from a current 10 percent.
“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.”
The bill passed 37-27, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans against.
The 20 percent mandate applies to Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which supplies power to most rural electric cooperatives. Tri-State gets most of its power from coal.
La Plata Electric Association’s board did not take a position on SB 252. The co-op is a member of a statewide association that opposes the bill, said Greg Munro, LPEA’s chief executive officer, via email.
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,” DelGrosso said. “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 already is 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.
The other Four Corners legislator, 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.
SB 252 began as a 25 percent mandate for renewable power, but the House weakened it to 20 percent.
The Senate already has 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.