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Rankin leads push for veto of SB 252

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Local legislators and lobby groups are helping lead the push to convince Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto a bill approved by the Colorado Legislature that would increase the renewable energy standard for rural electric cooperatives.

“There were a lot of bills this year that will hurt rural Colorado, but this may be the worst of all of them,” said 57th District Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican.

“I’m all in favor of subsidizing the technology of renewable energy, but when you increase the requirement from 10 percent to 20 percent it becomes a subsidy for the industry rather than the technology,” Rankin said.

Rankin joined about a dozen other Republican legislators on the steps of the state Capitol on Thursday, calling on Hickenlooper to veto Senate Bill 252.

The bill passed out of the legislature on May 1. If signed by the governor or allowed to go into law without his signature, it would require the state’s rural, nonprofit energy cooperatives to increase the amount of renewable energy offered to 20 percent by 2020.

According to Rankin and other opponents, the requirement places an unfair burden on rural communities, which now get much of their power from cheaper coal.

“This bill wasn’t discussed with the stakeholders in these rural areas, and it didn’t have the support of the rural electric associations,” Rankin said.

The bill was also vigorously opposed by two Western Slope government and business lobbying groups, Garfield County-based Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado and Club 20 in Grand Junction.

Associated Governments Executive Director Scott McInnis said the new mandate will have a severe impact on the state’s only wholesale electric power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which owns the Craig power generating station.

“This is a crippling measure that could cost Tri-State billions of dollars, and those costs will be passed down to the consumer,” said McInnis, a former 3rd District Congressman and state legislator from Glenwood Springs, during the legislative session in April.

“SB 252 is a terrible bill that will present massive cost impacts on residents and businesses utilizing rural electric cooperatives, and will negatively affect every industry in rural Colorado, from mining, to farming and ranching, to the ski industry,” he said.

The bill was co-sponsored by Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.

Proponents say the measure strengthens Colorado’s commitment to clean, renewable energy, and will create jobs in many rural areas by encouraging rooftop solar on residential and commercial buildings and public facilities, as well as community wind farms.

One local energy cooperative, Glenwood Springs-based Holy Cross Energy, did not take a position on the bill.

“We aren’t going to be affected by it, because we’re already at that 20 percent with the renewable sources we already have here,” said Mindy Tagler, senior manager for Holy Cross.

That includes local hydroelectric facilities, a methane plant and a new biomass generating plant near Gypsum that supplement the electricity Holy Cross purchases from Xcel Energy, she said.

“Renewable energy sources, especially in this valley, are important to our consumers,” Tagler said.

Rankin said a market-driven approach such as what Holy Cross is doing is the way to go, rather than imposing government mandates.

“They are doing a great job on their own, and the rural cooperatives should be free to make their own decisions,” Rankin said.

Another contested aspect of the bill is a 2 percent limit on billing increases for affected consumers. Proponents say the fee cap ensures consumers won’t be hit with increases they can’t afford, but opponents say the cap forces energy companies to simply shift the cost elsewhere.

Gov. Hickenlooper told The Denver Post on Thursday that he is still reviewing the legislation and speaking with lawmakers on both sides, as well as with executives from Tri-State.

The governor has until June 7 to either sign the bill, veto it or do nothing, in which case it will go into law.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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