Colorado likely to adopt tough new rural renewable energy requirements

 

Updated 5/16/13

This is “a direct assault on rural Colorado,” Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, fumed at Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers last week.

From the strength of his rhetoric, you might think wealthy Front Range cities had proposed phasing out production agriculture or even banning all guns. In reality, though, DelGrosso was piling scorn on a policy that would create opportunities for a major state industry – renewable energy.

CIMG5111.JPG
Photovoltaic panels at a solar power plant in Colorado's rural San Luis Valley. Sarah Gilman.

“You will not crucify us on the backs of windmills and solar panels,” another Colorado Rep., Lori Saine, R-Dacono, exclaimed.

At issue is Democrat-backed Senate Bill 252, which passed both houses of the state Legislature on a party-line vote and headed for the governor’s desk on May 1. If signed into law, which seems likely given that Gov. John Hickenlooper has signaled his support, it will require the rural electrical cooperatives that serve 70 percent of the state’s landmass and 25 percent of its residents to double the amount of renewable energy in their mix from 10 percent to 20 percent by 2020.

Reports the Colorado Statesman:

The legislation specifically targets the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, which serves ratepayers in counties south of Denver, as well as Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, (which sells wholesale electricity to) 18 rural cooperatives across the state. The co-ops (could) charge (up to) 2 percent of a customer’s bill to pay for the upgrades and changes.

Tri-State and other cooperatives have argued that the measure would be backbreaking for rural electricity consumers: "If enacted, (the bill) will cost Tri-State between $2 and $4 billion in the next six years," the co-op’s board chair Rick Gordon testified in early April. At the midpoint of that range, he argued, electricity rates could balloon 20 percent.

“Shame on you for raising rates on rural families when this does not affect you or your constituents,” Rep. DelGrosso told the Denver-area lawmakers that support the bill during his tirade.

But much of the Front Range is already subject to the state’s more stringent renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for investor-owned utilities like Xcel Energy, which must generate 30 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Before Colorado voters passed the first version of that RPS by ballot initiative in 2004, Xcel adopted the same argument as Tri-State has now. The utility helped form a group called Citizens for Sensible Energy Choices, which spent an estimated $1.5 million on a campaign arguing that the measure would hurt the economy and cause electricity bills to explode. According to Center for American Progress energy expert Richard Caperton, though, Xcel now says that the state’s renewable energy standard will ultimately save its consumers as much as $100 million over 25 years.

Today, 29 states and the District of Columbia have RPSs. It’s difficult to generalize their effects on electricity rates, despite conservative pundits’ attempts to do so as they argue in favor of various bills (including one in Montana) that weaken or eliminate the standards. For example, Grover Norquist’s suggestion that rates are higher in states with RPSs than those without isn’t especially illuminating, Caperton says, because “There are at least 13 reasons (average use per customer, the age of the distribution system, the generation resource mix, and local taxes among others) why one state could have higher rates than another.”

When Caperton crunched the numbers in a more specific way – calculating RPS states’ average annual electrical rate increases before and after their RPSs passed and comparing them to average rate increases in states without RPSs over the same time periods -- he found no pattern at all.

Moreover, RPSs provide clear economic benefits. Upping the standard for rural co-ops in Colorado, for example, will provide a much needed boost to the state’s already sizeable solar and wind industries, especially since Xcel and other utilities that had driven much of their past growth are on track to meet their existing RPS goals and have less incentive to aggressively invest in more. As we reported back in 2009, some among Tri-State’s rural member co-ops have long recognized this economic potential, as well as the fact that their supplier’s dependence on coal may itself lead to rate increases as infrastructure ages and environmental regulations get tighter. This April, the board of our own Delta-Montrose Electrical Association (DMEA) – which oversees a sparsely populated agricultural valley in western Colorado – passed a resolution to support SB252 if it allowed local co-ops to generate more of their own energy.

SB252 also allows power generated from coalmine methane – an especially potent greenhouse gas -- to count towards state renewable goals. That’s something DMEA’s board members have also lobbied hard for, since the organization’s service area is home to three giant underground coalmines that must vent methane to keep their workers safe. The valley already has one such project. “If (coalmine methane capture is) included in that renewable energy standard … it would improve the marketability of that resource,” board director Tony Prendergast testified last February at the state capital. “That … would be good for local economic development, good for the mines and provide another locally-generated energy resource which is something DMEA is very interested in.”

Assault on rural Colorado indeed…

Sarah Gilman is High Country News’ associate editor

High Country News Classifieds
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
  • TRUSTEE AND PHILANTHROPY RELATIONS MANGER,
    Come experience Work You Can Believe In! The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is seeking a Trustee and Philanthropy Relations Manager. This position is critical to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    -The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region- The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful, complex, diverse,...
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    Position will remain open until January 31, 2021 Join Our Team! The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit land trust organization dedicated to...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...