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Renewables Mandate in Colorado Survives Rollback Attempt

Words by Hannah Miller
Energy & Environment
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On Monday, the Colorado state legislature voted down a challenge to the state’s successful and popular Renewable Energy Standard, originally passed as the first of its kind in the country in 2004 by statewide ballot initiative.

Originally mandating that utilities and rural co-ops generate 15 percent of their power from renewables, the standard has since been expanded by state legislators twice. The most recent expansion raised the bar to 30 percent for city utilities and 20 percent for rural electric cooperatives, which serve a sizable chunk of the state -- more than 600,000 customers.

A recent poll showed that 76 percent of Coloradans support pro-renewable candidates, so it’s unclear which Coloradans bill sponsor Rep. Dan Thurlow (R-Grand Junction) has been talking to when he says he thinks “we’ve done enough.”

Senate Bill 44 died after some testimony before a House committee, as well as an earlier rally in the Denver state capitol sponsored by Conservation Colorado, Colorado Moms Know Best and others. It’s still amazing to watch environmentalists get up there and – in a strange mirror image of years of coal company messaging – watch the Sierra Club rep tell lawmakers that killing the RES would put more than 22,000 Coloradans out of work.

Xcel Energy has said it is on target to meet the Renewable Energy Standard mandate by 2020, so compliance really isn’t the problem. Xcel and Black Hills (the two biggest utilities in the state) both keep raising rates. This was brought up by Republican supporters of the rollback bill – a valid point for many low-income Coloradans. But clean-energy advocates argue that these higher rates aren’t because of the RES and that renewables actually save consumers money. ($25 million for Xcel customers alone, according to Doug Holland of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter.)

The Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) does a state-by-state analysis that includes the status of renewable portfolio standards. Such standards have been passed in 29 states and the District of Columbia. And if any single law has had a more direct impact on transitioning from fossil fuels, it’s hard to pick one. CNEE (a research project of Colorado State University) has found that, once put into place, these standards are rarely rolled back (coal stronghold West Virginia being the exception) because they result in actual economic growth, physical turbines and panels, and native renewable industries, including R&D.

One surprising group giving testimony at the committee hearing on Monday was from the Colorado Technology Association, which, despite tech’s assumedly green patina, argued in favor of rolling back the RES so that they can lure data centers and other companies to Colorado with more choice in power supplies.

After the House committee voted 6-5 on a party-line vote to kill SB-44, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) argued that it was time again for Colorado to up the ante:

“By signing long-term fixed price contracts for wind and solar, Xcel also sees these resources as providing a valuable long-term hedge against rising and volatile natural gas prices .... In fact, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission estimates that one of Xcel’s recent wind projects will actually save ratepayers $100 million over 25 years,” wrote Steve Clemmer, director of energy research for UCS, in a blog post.

Image credit: Governors' Wind Energy Coalition

Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller is a writer, ecologist, and adventurer living in Colorado. She is interested in everything, but particularly in creative sustainability practices, the Internet, arts and culture, the human-machine interaction, and democracy. She's lived in Shanghai, New York, L.A., Philadelphia, and D.C., and taught English, run political campaigns, waited tables, and written puppet shows. She definitely wants to hear what you're up to. You can reach her at @hannahmiller215, email at golden.notebook at gmail.com or at her site: www.hannahmiller.net.

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