DENVER — State Senate Republicans on Thursday passed a bill that would roll back Colorado’s 2013 Renewable Energy Standard on a party-line 18-17 vote. The measure, SB 44, reduces the requirement to 15 percent of all power generation by 2020. It would mean lowering the bar for clean energy sources 50 percent for large utilities and 25 percent for rural electric cooperatives. The existing standard is 30 percent for large utilities and 20 percent for rural cooperatives.
Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, who sponsored the rollback, argued that the 30 percent standard moves beyond the realm of productive incentive and into the realm of consumer burden.
“Rolling back these standards to a reasonable level makes a lot of sense for the people of Colorado,” said Scott. “We’ve done a great job but let’s not get carried away, let’s just leave it alone.”
Sen. Matt Jones, D-Boulder, a co-sponsor of the measure that created the standard, vehemently disagreed.
“Testimony on this [rollback] bill told us that we’re going to meet the standard and that it’s critical to keep it because renewables are a job creator and cheaper,” he said, pointing out that both large utilities like Xcel and providers for smaller rural cooperatives, like Tri-State, have been choosing wind and utility-scale solar over other energy bids not just because of the mandate but because they’re cheaper.
The Renewable Energy Standard has been a political hot potato since it passed, part of a larger partisan war over energy policy pushed by campaigning politicians and messaging groups and fueled by campaign finance realities as well as “old Colorado” versus “new Colorado” economies. Mostly rural extraction industry loyalty, even nostalgia, is pitted against mostly Front Range clean-energy-industry futuristic enthusiasm.
On the floor, Jones argued that the inclusion of wind has saved Xcel ratepayers $40 million dollars since 2009 and that the renewable standard has made Colorado the leading state in the nation for clean tech — a 22,000 job, $1.7 billion industry in the state.
Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, agreed the standard has seen Colorado move ahead of the pack — but mainly for ratcheting up the cost of energy.
“We once had the lowest energy costs in the western United States… now we have the second highest energy rates in the western United States,” he said.
On the contrary, said Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins. He said that, in his semi-rural district, expanded renewables have lead to some of the lowest rates in the state.
In their back and forth about whether renewables are, in fact, cheaper, lawmakers bitterly argued over tax subsidies. The data they cited on subsidies seemed fungible. At least, they used it to support what they wanted to say.
DBL Investors, a clean-and-high-tech venture capital firm, completed a study of a century worth of federal subsidies and found that, on a per-year average, fossil fuels have received about 13 times the amount of federal assistance renewable energy has received.
Yes, maybe, said Scott, but in recent years the tables have turned. In 2010, he said, the Energy Information Association found that solar and coal were subsidized at roughly the same level, while wind received nearly four times the subsidies dolled out to coal.
Another point of disagreement was about what Coloradan’s actually want. Unsurprisingly, lawmakers from rural, and particularly coal-driven, districts were adamant that the standard is at least indirectly tied to some of the recent, devastating mine-worker layoffs in counties like Delta.
Rural-area Republicans resoundingly agreed, emphasizing that even slightly higher electricity costs have an outsized impact on profit-margins in agricultural industries.
“We need to listen to the people of Colorado,” said Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, who said that his constituents have seen steadily increasing electricity costs.
But the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed to the bipartisan Colorado College 2014 Conservation in the West poll, which found whopping voter support for candidates who support renewables:
— David Anderson (@UCSEnergy) February 3, 2015
That survey also found that “59 percent of Coloradans are less likely to vote for a candidate who voted to stop taxpayer support for solar and wind energy companies.”
SB 44 now moves to the Democrat-controlled House.
Windmills, electric lines, flank I-25 south of Pueblo. Photo by Tessa Cheek.