Not in this Statehouse–Colorado

Source: By Elizabeth Miller, Boulder Weekly • Posted: Friday, March 13, 2015

Bill to weaken renewable energy standards came from ALEC

 Dennis Schroeder/NREL
The state bill that would have rolled back Colorado’s renewable energy standards to half of their proposed levels was co-sponsored by legislators who have been linked to the fossil fuel-funded American Legislative Exchange Council.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) describes itself as “the nation’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators. The organization advances limited government, free markets and federalism,” in a letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt written in response to his comments on the  company’s choice in September to part ways with the organization. The letter, which disputes Schmidt’s statement that the organization denies climate change, states that its objection is not with the science of climate change but with the use of government mandates, subsidies and climate regulations. “To ALEC, nothing is more anathema than the government picking winners and losers,” the letter to Schmidt reads.

That letter was signed by Colorado Senators Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) and Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs), who co-sponsored the bill to reduce Colorado’s renewable energy standards. Cadman is one of Colorado’s state chairs for the organization. He’s also the Colorado Senate president.

That bill, Senate Bill 15-044, proposed to reduce the state’s renewable energy standard as required by the public utilities commission, set at 20 percent from 2015 to 2019 and 30 percent from 2020 and after for investor-owned utilities and 20 percent for cooperative electric associations, to 15 percent indefinitely. It passed the senate on Feb. 5 and died in House committee.

The Energy and Policy Institute, a clean energy think tank, released a report in May detailing the attacks renewable energy standards have faced in 17 state legislatures around the country based on models of bills from ALEC.

In October 2012, ALEC’s Board of State Legislators approved model text for the Electricity Freedom Act, which states it “repeals the State of {insert states}’s requirement that electric distribution utilities and electric service companies provide [blank] percent of their electricity supplies from renewable energy sources by [blank].” Their argument was that these renewable energy mandates decrease American competitiveness, cost more than traditional sources and that those costs will be passed to consumers. That full repeal bill failed in every state except Ohio.

“What we saw in response is that ALEC actually adopted additional model legislation, so there were two additional bills adopted in late 2013 that would basically water down [renewable portfolio standards] by including existing hydro sources,” says Gabe Elsner with the Energy and Policy Institute. “ALEC members understand that politics in their states differ, but what they do have in common is that they’ve sat in a room with a bunch of fossil fuel interests that want to see these [renewable portfolio standards] policies repealed.”

Colorado’s renewable energy standard has led to an electricity mix in the state that went from 0.6 percent non-hydropower renewables to 15 percent in 2013, according to The Union of Concerned Scientists. The state ranks eighth in the nation for installed solar capacity with 398 megawatts of solar energy capable of powering 76,000 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Colorado also has 2,593 megawatts of wind power capacity installations, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s report on the wind industry market published on Jan. 28. In 2014, the state added 261 megawatts of wind power with the construction of Xcel Energy’s 200-megawatt project near Limon in the eastern plains and Platte River Power Authority’s 60-megawatt Spring Canyon Expansion near the state’s northeastern border.

Nineteen percent of Xcel Energy’s power in 2013 was from renewables and it has come at the cost of $1.44 per month for an average residential customer, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Secretary of State documents show the lobbying firms representing Xcel registered as opposing the bill to reduce renewable enegy standards.

“In Colorado specifically, I think trying to repeal the renewable portfolio standard would be dead on arrival, and so these ALEC members are trying to at least roll back the renewable energy standard as much as they can,” Elsner says.

Nearly 174,000 U.S. workers are employed in the solar industry, according to The Solar Foundation, a 20 percent increase over 2014 totals. Nationwide, there are more than 12,700 megawatts of wind energy currently under construction, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The price of a solar panel has dropped more than 60 percent and the price of wind power by more than 50 percent over the past four years, the Energy and Policy Institute states, but despite those numbers, the attack on clean energy and its costs has continued.

ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force includes members from major fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Duke Energy and Peabody Energy. It has approved model bill language to repeal or weaken renewable energy standards, according to the Energy and Policy Institute.

Libertarian think tank and climate change skeptic organization The Heartland Institute joined with ALEC to write model legislation to reverse renewable energy mandates, the Washington Post reported in 2012. The Heartland Institute recived $736,500 from Exxon Mobil between 1998 and 2006, the group’s spokesman Jim Lakely told the Post, and $25,000 in 2011 from foundations affiliated with the Koch Industries, which also has significant investments in oil and energy industries.

“I think that most citizens believe that we should have an open and transparent legislative process that includes all voices equally and allows the priorities that would benefit the public interest to prevail. What we see with American Legislative Exchange Council is that they’re operating behind closed doors. Corporations are voting as equals with our elected representatives on model bills and these special interests then work with those legislators to pass these model bills through state houses and into law,” Elsner says. “Everybody has seen the Schoolhouse Rock video and that’s just not how the process is supposed to work. Legislators are supposed to be meeting with constituents and working with their constituents to figure out what’s in the best interest of the people they’re serving, but instead you have special interests having the ear of our elected officials and also voted as equals on model bills that would benefit those special interests.”

ALEC released a report in February titled Innovate: Policy for the Future that describes the organization’s missions for policy changes. Among those were the rubrics for legislation to expedite permits for energy companies with a history of compliance with environmental laws and regulations, resolve that states should retain authority over hydraulic fracturing and that to regulate fracking under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act would “add burdensome and unnecessary regulatory requirements.” The organization also supports the expansion of liquefied natural gas exports, reduce the export controls on American defense technology, allow legislators to identify a list of potential bidders to be awarded public contracts and require community correction agencies to adopt sanctions and rewards for those on probation and parole.

The nationwide campaign against renewable energy standards is expected to continue.

“I imagine that as long as there are ALEC members in Colorado, they’ll continue to push the priority agenda that ALEC has,” Elsner says. “And right now, a lot of ALEC’s energy members have an interest in weakening clean energy policies.”