Dems stop Colorado renewable-energy rollback

Source: By Peter Marcus, Herald Denver Bureau • Posted: Tuesday, March 3, 2015

DENVER – Colorado Democrats controlling a House of Representatives committee on Monday killed a Republican attempt to roll back rural renewable-energy standards.

The measure made it through the Republican-controlled Senate last month but faced an uphill climb in the House, where Democrats on the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee ended the effort by a 6-5 party-line vote.

Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction, said his measure was not about advancing an attack on renewable energy. Instead, he said the purpose was to tweak the existing mandates to better meet the needs of Colorado.

“There is always a change in the situation as you go along, and you have to look at that change … and evaluate where we are now, where have we been and where are we going,” Thurlow told the committee.

“We’re on the right course,” he added. “But at the same time, we’ve taken energy rates to the point where they’re dangerously high for families and as far as creating economic development is concerned.”

Under Thurlow’s legislation – which was co-sponsored by Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction – larger providers would have seen the renewable-energy mandate drop from 30 percent by 2020 to 15 percent by 2020, while rural electricity co-ops would have seen it decline from 20 percent by 2020 to 15 percent by 2020.

The issue boiled over in 2013 when Democrats controlling both chambers of the Legislature pushed the rural standard.

But the discussion began back in 2004 when voters established a standard on larger providers, which started at 10 percent. It was strengthened over the years by Democratic governors and legislatures. Colorado actually led the way, becoming the first state in the nation to set a requirement.

Supporters of the mandates point out that larger utilities have said that the requirements are attainable without much burden.

Environmentalists held a rally at the Capitol just before the hearing to express their opposition to the bill. A group of mothers said the issue is about protecting the health of future generations by moving away from traditional fuel sources that many believe is at least in part the cause of climate change.

“Moms believe we have a moral obligation to protect children’s health and future, ensuring they have clean air is one of the very basics,” said Dana Gutwein, a leader with the group Colorado Moms Know Best. “The reality is that chopping the state’s renewable-energy standard in half would mean relying more on coal-fired plants and more kids dealing with asthma and other respiratory problems.”

But opponents say rates have increased as a result of the mandates, especially in rural Colorado, where economies haven’t bounced back as fast as urban-centered parts of the state.

“The cost to the consumer is being driven higher in Colorado,” Thurlow said. “All I’m suggesting is a timeout.”