A recycled debate on renewables before bill passed

DENVER — Republican lawmakers spent three more hours Tuesday claiming that a bill to raise the state’s renewable energy standard on rural electric associations not only will shut down rural businesses, but also force people from their homes.

Democrats spent those same three hours rolling their eyes, snickering at GOP arguments against SB252, and saying they were being unnecessarily dramatic.

Those three hours come on top of nearly 10 hours lawmakers spent on the bill Thursday and Friday, when Republicans said the measure was the product of the environmental lobby and Democrats said their opposition stems from the fossil fuel industry.

In the end, of course, the measure passed on a 37-27 vote, right down party lines.

“This is a bill that is going to create jobs, help ensure we have cleaner energy, and we diversify our portfolio,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, who sponsored the bill with Rep. Crisanta Duran, also a Denver Democrat. “These jobs are going to be created through renewable energy in both wind and solar that are in rural areas of our state.”

Republican lawmakers, however, said raising the standard for how much renewable energy rural electric associations are required to generate, as the bill does, would create too great a hardship for them.

The bill, which heads back to the Senate for a final vote before it can head to Gov. John Hickenlooper, is aimed at Tri-State Transmission and Generation Association, which supplies electricity to most REAs in the state.

It would require Tri-State to obtain 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. Currently, the standard is 10 percent. Initially, the bill called for a 25 percent standard.

Invester-owned utility companies such as Xcel Energy are required to meet a 30 percent standard by that time.

Rural lawmakers said REAs were largely exempted from that higher standard as part of an agreement in 2007 and were upset the Legislature was changing the rules on them.

“The members of this body made a handshake in 2007 with rural Coloradans,” Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita, said on the House floor. “Now we’re going back on our word, we’re upping the ante, we’re moving the goal line and we’re doubling the renewable energy standard.”

Ferrandino, however, said there was no such deal and no such handshake.

Rep. Michael McLachlan, D-Durango, said not all rural lawmakers opposed the measure.

The freshman representative said people in his district not only like the idea of using renewable energy, but also applaud the Legislature for calling for more.

“Unlike some of the other rural legislators who have spoken here, I have not heard from my community an eternal damnation of renewables,” McLachlan said. “In fact, my community tells me that renewables are good for our economy, it is good for our business and it is going to create jobs on the Western Slope.”

House approval of the bill sparked immediate reaction from the renewable energy community, saying the measure will continue the state’s years-long effort to a true all-of-the-above energy policy.

“The cost of generating electricity from solar in rural Colorado continues to decrease rapidly, while the cost to generate electricity from fossil fuels continues to increase,” said Lou Villaire, co-owner Atlasta Solar in Grand Junction. “Colorado utilities are burdening Colorado ratepayers with the higher costs of fossil fuels in the form of annual and substantial rate increases.”

Increasing the renewable standard wasn’t the only party-line vote on Tuesday.

Lawmakers also approved a ballot question to impose a 10 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax on the sale of recreational marijuana, made legal by voters last fall under Amendment 64.

Legislators also approved, on a near party-line vote, a measure to create a special task force to examine mental health issues as they relate to guns, which is part of a package of gun-control and mental-health measures in reaction to last year’s tragic shootings at an Aurora movie theater and a Connecticut school.


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