Power companies balk at renewable mandate for rural areas
Colorado rural cooperatives assailed a bill Friday that would more than double their renewable-energy mandate, claiming the legislation was crafted in secret without their input, would impose billions of dollars in costs that would be passed on to ratepayers and benefit “multibillionaire” developers.
In an interview with The Daily Sentinel’s editorial board, Grand Valley Power General Manager Thomas Walch, Colorado Rural Electric Association Executive Director Kent Singer and Lee Boughey, senior manager of corporate communications and public affairs with the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, said cooperatives and companies that provide electricity to serve rural areas of Colorado are willing to boost — and have boosted — the amount of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy they use to generate power.
But they said the bill in its current form is unpalatable.
“We feel that it’s a direct assault on rural Colorado, and that’s because of the way it’s being rushed through the Legislature with no input from rural constituents, even though they’re the ones who are going to pay for it,” Boughey said.
Senate Bill 252, which is scheduled for second reading in the Senate on Monday, would increase the amount of electricity cooperatives must obtain from renewable sources from 10 percent to 25 percent by 2020.
It also ups the amount that cooperatives can boost rates to customers from 1 percent to 2 percent.
While Walch acknowledged the bill would have little direct impact on Grand Valley Power — it buys its wholesale power from Xcel Energy — he’s opposed to it for many of the same reasons Western Slope cooperatives like Tri-State, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, San Miguel Power Association and Holy Cross Energy that stand to be affected are.
Boughey and Singer said cooperatives are “serious” about increasing the amount of electricity they generate from renewable sources, although they didn’t say Friday what an acceptable percentage might be.
But in the instance of SB252, Boughey said, the bill was introduced April 4, sent to a committee Monday and approved on second reading Friday — all without seeking feedback from cooperatives.
Singer noted that as it stands now, rural cooperatives must meet a 3 percent renewable energy standard by the end of 2014, 6 percent by the end of 2019 and 10 percent by the end of 2020.
He said Tri-State is close to producing 6 percent of its electricity from renewable energy, while Boughey said Tri-State has implemented two new wind turbines in the past couple of years and will soon announce the expansion of a wind farm.
Boughey, however, claimed meeting a 25 percent renewable energy standard within 6 1/2 years is “absolutely unachievable.”
Tri-State doesn’t have enough transmission capacity to bring wind power from the Eastern Plains to the Western Slope, and building a new transmission line would take eight to 12 years, according to Singer.
The construction of new wind farms, new natural gas units and new transmission lines to carry the power could cost Tri-State as much as $3 billion, Boughey claimed — a cost that will be shouldered by ratepayers. A former Colorado Public Utilities Commission chairman has disputed that number.
“This is taking money out of the back pockets of rural Coloradans — farmers and ranchers — so they can fund developers of wind farms,” Singer said.
Should the bill pass the Senate, Singer predicted the House will kill or significantly amend it.
Should it become law, on the other hand, he said cooperatives will “comply with the law” and do the best they can to implement the requirements.