Opponents of a bill to require rural electric co-ops to increase their use of renewable energy resources are putting on a full court press this week to persuade Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto the bill.
Republican legislators at the state capitol held a press conference Thursday, May 9 to plead with the governor to kill Senate Bill 13-252. If signed, the law would raise the current renewable energy standard for the co-ops from 10 percent to 20 percent by 2020.
They’re also bringing in ranchers and farmers who would be most impacted by the bill to meet with the governor.
Hickenlooper said last week he will meet with executives from Tri-State Generation & Transmission, which provides power to 18 rural electric co-ops and is one of the two entities targeted by SB 252 (the other is the Intermountain Rural Electric Association).
Tri-State executives claim the bill will cost the co-ops at least $2 billion to implement. The bill contains a 2 percent annual limit on how much co-ops can increase utility bills, but opponents don’t buy it.
“It doesn’t matter what the legislation says with regard to the price increase,” said Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray). “The deadlines on this are such that Tri-State will have to shutter existing plants” just to build up the renewables. “Our electric bills will go up 10 to 15 percent per year, and they will never come down,” he added.
During the May 9 news conference, Rep. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction) said the damage to rural Colorado is just “mind-boggling” and that the estimates on how the law would impact greenhouse gases are way off.
He also said the bill was no more than a subsidy for the wind and solar power industries, and if they were such good investments the utilities would already be doing it. The real environmental problem, Scott said, is 250 million cars on the road and the pollution they cause; targeting the utilities is a “false target.”
Sean Paige of Americans for Prosperity Colorado, an organization backed in part by conservative oil billionaire David Koch, noted his group is running TV ads asking citizens to contact the governor to urge his veto.
“Rural Colorado shouldn’t pay higher energy bills so [bill sponsor] Sen. John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) can get his Climate Crusader merit badge,” Paige said. He invited the governor to tour rural Colorado and talk to those affected by SB 252.
“Look them in the eye” and explain why their utility bills will go up, Paige said. “This affects 10 of the poorest counties in Colorado,” said Amy Oliver Cooke of the Independence Institute.
“This is preferred energy; it’s a payback to wind and solar on the backs of the poorest counties,” and she said SB 252 would widen the urban-rural divide.
“These co-ops are nonprofit for a reason,” said Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction). “They are just barely hanging on … the future of these farms, ranches and retirees on fixed income depend on [the governor’s] ability to step up for rural Colorado and be the governor for all of Colorado” and veto the bill.
“This is just one more load on the back of those citizens,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud). “We can’t afford it … it’s a payoff for special interests, bad public policy based on theoretical notions on what carbon dioxide will do.”
“This is a green ‘pork’ bill,” said Rep. Steven Humphrey (R-Severance). And Sen. Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins) said wind turbines harm wildlife, including bald eagles, an issue ignored by environmentalists. “I hope the governor is listening to the voices across the state and veto the bill,” said Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Douglas County).
On the May 9 KOA-850 Mike Rosen Show, Hickenlooper said he hadn’t decided on SB 252, although he defended wind generation in his dialogue with Rosen. Hickenlooper noted that Tri-State plans to build a coal plant on the Eastern plains and that it would make sense to have some wind generation.
But Hickenlooper also said he met with farmers and ranchers on May 7 and was “astounded” by the utility costs for irrigation. A typical system, he said, costs $30,000 per year to run, and an increase of 2 percent is about $600, which he called significant.
Hickenlooper has 30 days after the bill’s final passage to sign it, which would be around May 31.
In other news at the capitol:
A bill to shift the high-cost subsidy from phone lines to broadband died in the Senate on May 6. SB 287 would have used some of the money that currently funds high-cost phone access to fund broadband Internet service in unserved and underserved areas. Morse, a co-sponsor, tried to resuscitate the bill on Monday but didn’t have the votes to get it out of the Senate.
SB 210, which will change how the Department of Corrections tracks its officers working hours, was amended in the House to add on a bill to begin re-use of the Fort Lyons prison in Bent County. Members of the Joint Budget Committee on May 3 joined with Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee to kill House Bill 13-1261, which would have repurposed the prison into a facility for the homeless.
JBC members questioned the cost, estimated at $2.8 million, and whether it was appropriate to ship homeless people to Bent County. House sponsors of HB 1261 attached the bill to SB 210, which was popular with legislative Democrats, and SB 210 passed on May 6. It now awaits the governor’s signature.
The last day of the 2013 session saw the passage of another bill to help rural Coloradans keep their water rights. Current law allows the owner of a water right to lease those rights to a borrower for no more than three years in a 10-year period. HB 1130 allows those leases to take place twice more in succeeding 10-year periods.
Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) told this reporter this will help prevent “buy and dry” sales of water rights on agricultural lands.
“Buy and dry” was also the topic of a resolution passed by lawmakers on the final day of the session. House Joint Resolution 13-1026 said the state’s population is projected to nearly double by 2050, but water supplies will not grow to meet those needs.
Often, the first and easiest source of water for growing municipalities is agricultural water rights and conversion to municipal use, which leads to a permanent dry-up of farms and ranches, the resolution said.
The General Assembly must “continue to develop and enact alternatives to the ‘buy and dry’ option in order to protect Colorado’s agricultural economy and rural communities.” Brophy sponsored the resolution in the Senate; Sonnenberg was a co-sponsor in the House.
The 2013 General Assembly session ended at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8.
Holyoke Enterprise May 16, 2013