Bill moves on to up renewable energy usage for co-ops

Source: By Mark Jaffe, The Denver Post • Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Colorado Senate — over the strong objections of rural Republican lawmakers — passed a bill Monday increasing the amount of renewable energy that rural electricity cooperatives must use.

The bill, SB-252, requires that 25 percent of the co-ops’ electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, up from the 10 percent standard set in 2007.

It passed 18-17, with two Democratic senators, Mary Hodge of Brighton and Lois Tochtrop of Thornton, joining the Republicans in opposition.

It now goes to the House of Representatives.

The legislation is a “big step forward in expanding solar and wind energy in Colorado,” Peter Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in a statement.

The legislation, however, is opposed by the cooperatives and their wholesale power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and Republican legislators.

“This is taking money out the pockets of the rural economy,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.

Tri-State is the second-largest power generator in Colorado after Xcel Energy, which as an investor-owned utility has a renewable energy requirement of 30 percent by 2020.

Xcel has had more than a decade to increase its renewable energy portfolio. Tri-State is being asked to do it in 6½ years, said Lee Boughey, a Tri-State spokesman.

“The bill asks for too much, too fast,” Boughey said.

Tri-State officials said that when all the extra transmission lines and backup natural gas generation are added into the renewable resources, it will take $3 billion to meet the mandate.

Those costs would be passed on to its 18 Colorado member co-ops that serve about 1 million people and add up to a 20 percent rate hike, Boughey said.

Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, said Tri-State was overestimating costs because it is reluctant to add more renewable energy. “This is not their standard business model,” he said. “This is not what they are used to.”

Tri-State generates about 60 percent of its energy from coal-fired power plants.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, provides for limiting costs for meeting the requirement to no more than a 2 percent increase in bills.

Republican lawmakers said that cap wasn’t firm and the burden of the cost would be borne by poor rural families.

“It is something of a shell game,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. “I don’t believe the numbers.”

Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, countered that “there is a clear limitation.”

The bill will provide an opportunity to wind, solar and biomass projects which are already being sited in rural areas, Schwartz said.

“What the bill does is develop rural resources,” Schwartz said.

The bill also allows methane captured from mines and landfills used in electricity generation to be counted as a renewable energy source.