Tri-State CEO urges Colorado governor to veto rural co-op renewable-energy bill

Source: By Mark Jaffe, The Denver Post • Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The bill that is either a push to boost renewable energy on Colorado’s plains and mountains or part of “a war on rural Colorado” now sits on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk.

The key issue is whether the bill’s mandate for rural electricity cooperatives to provide 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources places a financial burden on ranchers, farmers and small towns.

The bill limits rate impacts to no more than a 2 percent increase in electric bills.

“There is a lot of concern. … The cost can’t be controlled to 2 percent,” Hickenlooper said in an interview Thursday.

“The co-op controls this,” Hickenlooper said.

If there is a problem, it would appear to be with the co-ops, not the state, the governor said.

“That’s why we haven’t made a decision.” On Tuesday, Hickenlooper met with Ken Anderson, chief executive of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, “to hear exactly, specifically about the 2 percent.”

Tri-State provides electricity to 18 Colorado co-ops.

“We shared with the governor why we believe the bill is unworkable and worthy of a veto,” spokesman Lee Boughey said in a statement after the meeting.

In 2007, the co-ops agreed to a standard of 10 percent renewable power by 2020. The bill doubles that to 20 percent by 2020.

“The short implementation time frame doesn’t allow sufficient time to construct required infrastructure, and the cost protections for rural consumers are unclear,” Boughey said.

Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, a sponsor of the bill, said the cost issue is being overblown.

“Two percent means 2 percent,” Morse said. “It comes to about $11 million a year for Tri-State. It’s whatever they can do. There is no penalty for not meeting the standard.”

Tri-State, which has already built two wind farms and a solar plant, may need no more than another 200 megawatts of wind to comply, according to an analysis by Bill Midcap, renewable-energy director for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, a Denver-based nonprofit.

“Tri-State may be crying wolf a bit,” Midcap said.

Is it a war on rural Colorado?

“They are trying to paint it that way,” Hickenlooper said. “But there are two sides to the story.”

“We went and looked at all the rural co-ops of our surrounding states and all the states with renewable goals. After this, we become about average, right about in the middle,” Hickenlooper said. “Right now, we are about the lowest.”