More debate needed on renewable power

A bill that would more than double the renewable energy requirement for rural electric cooperative power suppliers, and that seemed to be in the extra-fast lane at the state Capitol, was slowed a bit Friday when the Senate laid it over until at least Monday before voting on it.

Good news, that is, even if it is only a temporary reprieve. The bill, Senate Bill 252, was drafted without input from any of the cooperatives that would be affected by it. It was introduced just over a week ago, but has already been heard in a Senate committee and was scheduled for its first vote in the full Senate Friday before it was laid over. That’s lightning-quick in a Legislature that often moves at a snail’s pace.

SB 252 would require the association that supplies power to 18 cooperatives in Colorado to boost the renewable energy component of its electric generation from the current level of roughly 6 percent to 25 percent by 2020.

That’s also a lightning pace and is “unachievable,” said Lee Boughey of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., the power provider for most rural electric cooperatives in the state.

Reaching the 25 percent mark will require building more wind farms and solar energy facilities, as well as natural gas generation stations to back them up and transmission lines to move the power, he said. But it’s nearly impossible to permit and build a major new powerline in the 6 1/2 years allotted by the bill, much less all the new generation facilities, he said.

Boughey estimated SB 252 requirements would cost Tri-State and its member cooperatives — and by extension, their customers — $3 billion by 2020.

Tri-State customers in this region include cooperatives such as Delta-Montrose Electric Association and Holy Cross Electric Association. Grand Valley Rural Power Lines is a rural cooperative, but it buys its electricity from Xcel Energy, which is already on track to obtain 30 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

Tri-State and its members are required under current law to acquire 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010. Having currently reached 6 percent, the association is ahead of schedule to meet that requirement, Boughey said.

But that requirement was developed in 2007, through legislation drafted with input from Tri-State and its member cooperatives, as well as many other groups.

The fact that the cooperatives were specifically excluded from the discussions during the drafting of SB 252 is one indication that the bill is deeply flawed. So is the unrealistic expectation that Tri-State and the rural cooperatives can suddenly ramp up to meet a 25 percent renewable standard by 2020, instead of 10 percent.

That doesn’t mean they should never be expected to meet a higher standard. It will inevitably be required. But the cooperatives should be involved in drafting the how and when of any new renewable standard.

Meanwhile, the legislative fast track for SB 252 should be braked to a halt.


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