Rejected energy department funding threatens local programs
The state Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee has rejected emergency funding for the Colorado Energy Office, throwing its future into question and leaving many Garfield County renewable energy leaders wondering where the money for some critical programs will come from.
The energy office’s funding is set to expire Saturday, and though Gov. John Hickenlooper was pushing to extend the office’s budget for another year, the effort fell through in a 3-3 split along partisan lines in the Joint Budget Committee.
Alice Laird, executive director of the local Clean Energy Economy for the Region, emphasized this development does not mean the energy office has been closed or dismantled, and there is still hope to turn the situation around before major programs are affected.
The Joint Budget Committee simply hasn’t approved its funding for the next fiscal year, she said. Hickenlooper intends to find a way to fund the Colorado Energy Office, though it’s still unclear how that could be accomplished.
If the energy office isn’t funded, the effects are going to be felt especially in rural Colorado, said Laird.
The energy office has been “an absolutely critical long-term partner” for Garfield Clean Energy and CLEER, she said. And several programs that those organizations administer will lose funding if the office isn’t made whole.
One of those is Refuel Colorado, a statewide program working on alternative fuels, which Laird said has been a critical piece of local efforts to advance electric vehicle infrastructure, like EV charging stations. That program also funds efforts to expand compressed natural gas as another alternative fuel.
The Colorado Energy Office has also offered technical assistance and grants to farmers and schools to become energy efficient. “This lack of funding will especially hit rural communities that don’t have the resources as urban areas,” said Laird.
CLEER and GCE were also planning to pursue funding from the state energy office for a project to develop local clean energy sources, such as from hydrological power, geothermal power or captured methane.
The energy department has also supported projects like community solar panels and CNG stations through grants and tax credits. Some of the energy office’s programs are federally funded, so those will not be affected.
At the core of this issue have been differing philosophies on what the energy office’s purpose should be, with Republicans pushing back on the office’s focus on renewable energy sources.
“We are very hopeful that the energy office and legislators will find a solution,” said Laird. Energy office staff and legislators are working to find funding for the office now, but it’s essential that this solution be bipartisan, she said.
Locally, CLEER and GCE have been very successful at gaining bipartisan support for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, which are part of economic diversification. But that dynamic has not been the same in the state government.
At the state level, Laird said “the issue became overly polarized, and the Legislature basically ran out of time.”