Methane energy bill clears Senate panel

A bill that Western Slope sponsors expect will create jobs, boost the region’s energy development and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions cleared a major hurdle Tuesday.

The measure, which the Senate Local Government Committee approved on a 3-2 vote, would provide incentives for coal mines to capture methane, which currently is vented into the atmosphere, and sell it as a power source.

To do that, HB1160 would make that methane eligible under the state’s renewable-energy standard, making the gas a commodity for power companies that are required to meet that standard, said Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who introduced the bill with Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey.

Although opponents and supporters agreed methane from coal isn’t a renewable energy, part of the reason behind having a standard is to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Schwartz said.

Capturing methane for use as an energy source accomplishes two goals: Its creates jobs and improves the environment, said Tom Vessels, manager of North Fork Energy, which plans to capture methane gas from the company’s Oak Creek Mine near Somerset.

He said capturing methane from coal mines would be equivalent to removing 18,000 cars from the nation’s roads. Current law requires the highly flammable gas to be vented into the atmosphere for safety reasons, Vessels told the committee.

Under the standard, power companies are required to generate 30 percent of their electricity by 2020 from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

Opponents of the measure say they are concerned that calling methane a biomass fuel under the renewable standard, as the bill does, would hinder more development of traditional renewable sources.

“What we don’t want to see happen is the erosion of the standard,” said Bruce Driver, an attorney and former executive director of Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group that operates in Colorado and six other Western states. “At the same time, we agree with those folks who’d like to see (coal methane) captured.”

Schwartz said the bill will lead to coal-mining companies investing up to $50 million in technology and jobs to capture an energy resource that she said is worth about $1 million a month.

The bill heads to the full Senate, where it faces an uncertain future. Two of three Democrats on the committee opposed it, and others are expected to join them in opposition.

It narrowly passed the House last month on a 34–29 party-line vote, with Republicans supporting it.


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