Gov. Hickenlooper’s backward process

It’s no surprise that Gov. John Hickenlooper opted to sign Senate Bill 252, which doubles the renewable energy requirement for rural electric cooperatives, but it is disappointing nonetheless.

Our disappointment isn’t because the governor and the Democratic leaders of the Legislature who pushed this bill want to increase the amount of wind, solar and other energy rural cooperatives use to generate electricity.

The ratio should be boosted, and going from a 10 percent renewable power standard to 20 percent is not unreasonable, especially when for-profit utilities such as Xcel Energy are on track to meet a 30 percent standard by the end of the decade.

What’s disappointing is that Hickenlooper recognized some of the very real concerns expressed by opponents of SB252, which the governor called “an imperfect bill.” But rather than veto the bill and send it back to the Legislature to fix its problems, Hickenlooper signed an executive order to create a special commission to investigate those concerns, then make recommendations to the Legislature next year for changes in the law to address those concerns.

We appreciate the fact that the governor didn’t simply ignore those concerns about the timing of the requirements and the costs to electric consumers. And the fact that the commission will include representatives of the rural electric cooperatives, whose voices were not heard in the drafting of SB252, is welcome news. But the process he has adopted is backward.

It would make far more sense to appoint such a commission before the legislation was signed into law, then allow the commission’s recommendations to be included in the drafting of legislation. But by signing the law, then creating the commission, there is little incentive for lawmakers who passed the bill to adopt any of the commission’s recommendations.

Democrats in the Legislature this year essentially ignored the utilities that will be most affected by this, whose leaders said repeatedly that the deadline set in SB252 for meeting the 20 percent standard by 2020 is too short, that it is “unachievable.” They also maintained that, despite provisions in the bill to prevent any rate increases of more than 2 percent a year, the cost hikes to consumers could be much higher.

Hickenlooper said the reasons for signing the bill outweigh reasons for vetoing it. They include, according to the governor’s signing statement, expanded economic opportunities throughout the state, including rural Colorado, the ability to count methane gas from coal mines as “an eligible energy resource” and helping coal mines to capture methane that’s now just being released into the atmosphere and the need to continue to diversify the state’s sources of electric generation.

All of that may be true, but vetoing SB252 wouldn’t have foreclosed upon any of those benefits. It would simply have forced the Legislature to rethink the bill next year and respond to opponents’ concerns.

Hickenlooper would have served the rural areas of the state better if he had vetoed it.


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