Levy’s rural electric election, solar gardens bills both headed to Ritter’s desk

A pair of energy bills sponsored by Boulder Democrat Claire Levy have cleared both houses of the State Legislature and are headed to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk for signatures.

Levy’s rural electric association (REA) election transparency bill (HB 1098) and solar gardens bill (HB 1342) both enjoyed wide-ranging support from Colorado’s environmental community.

The REA election bill, a yawner of a topic but with huge implications for the type of power distributed by rural electric co-ops, stems from dissatisfaction by some members, politicians and environmentalists with how certain co-ops conduct board elections.

Accusations of board secrecy and election policies meant to favor conservative incumbents over progressive challengers prompted a bill meant to standardize and publicize election procedures, guarantee members input on key decisions and provide detailed information on meeting proceedings.

The state’s 22 REAs account for 23 percent of the electric energy consumed in Colorado, but because the organizations are member-owned and governed, they are largely exempt from oversight by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

“The decisions that are made at the cooperative board level are incredibly critical,” said Pam Kiely, program director for Environment Colorado. “Choices that utilities make today about how they deliver electricity to their customers, where that electricity comes from and how involved they are in efforts to help cut down electricity consumption are absolutely some of the most critical questions that we face.”

The Delta Montrose Electric Association quit the statewide Colorado Rural Electric Association when the CREA initially declined to support the bill. The state group later backed the legislation after Levy made some changes.

The state’s largest REA, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, bitterly opposed the bill, but the IREA’s most progressive board member, Mike Kempe, spoke out in support of 1098.

Levy’s so-called “solar gardens” bill (HB 1342) initially met resistance from the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association because of fears it would actually reduce the amount of solar installation around the state.

The bill is really aimed at increasing access to solar power by allowing renters, condo owners and homeowners in shaded areas or with poor orientation to the sun to buy into community solar gardens built on a common piece of property and receive the same tax incentives and rebates as individual rooftop solar customers.

“By letting communities share the investment and choose the best site, Community Solar Gardens gives every Coloradan the power to go solar, whether they rent an apartment, share a condo, or own a home,” said Dana Hoffman, energy associate for Environment Colorado.

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