Colo. governor signs law doubling clean-power standard for rural co-ops

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2013

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed a controversial bill into law this afternoon that will double the renewable energy standard for rural electric cooperatives in the state, drawing cheers from environmental leaders.

Hickenlooper’s signature was the last obstacle in front of S.B. 252, which will require electric co-ops with more than 100,000 customers to increase the minimum amount of renewable energy offered to 20 percent from the current 10 percent by 2020.

But in signing the bill, Hickenlooper acknowledged in an executive order that the legislation “is imperfect,” and he established an advisory committee to the director of the Colorado Energy Office that will address ongoing cncerns about the “feasibility of the implementation timetable,” as well as concerns that the legislation could increase monthly utility bills.

“Some of the concerns raised during the legislative process were not given due consideration,” Hickenlooper writes. “The advisory committee will work to fully address these concerns, culminating in proposals for the 2014 legislative session.”

The proposal, which Republican leaders and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association energy cooperative, among others, had urged Hickenlooper to veto, is strongly supported by Colorado environmentalists and the renewables industry sector, which says the new standard could revitalize the market for clean energy after a recent downturn.

The Sierra Club launched an ad campaign last month pressing Hickenlooper to sign the legislation. The group says it collected 2,400 signatures on a petition supporting the legislation. It also bought a quarter-page ad in The Denver Post featuring solar power workers in a field of solar panels with the text, “Gov. Hickenlooper: Keep Colorado a National Leader in Clean Energy Jobs. Sign SB 252″ (E&ENews PM, May 17).

John Nielsen, the energy program director for Boulder, Colo.-based Western Resource Advocates, called the governor’s approval of the legislation “an important step for Colorado’s burgeoning renewable energy industry that will benefit families and economies across the state.”

“We applaud Gov. Hickenlooper for signing significant legislation into law which will expand clean renewable energy to more of Colorado,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters. “The governor’s signature today reaffirms that clean wind and solar energy are a critical part of the foundation of Colorado’s energy future. This law will help foster the development of homegrown energy and incentivize energy sources that benefit our fight against climate change.”

But the legislation has some fierce critics, many of whom fear requiring rural co-ops to double the use of wind, solar, geothermal or other green-energy sources would create financial hardships, ultimately driving up customers’ electricity bills.

The new law includes provisions capping annual rate increases at 2 percent, which proponents say will raise electric utility bills on average by no more than $2 a month.

Hickenlooper had until Friday to sign or veto the bill, although he could also have let the deadline pass and allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Colorado had 2,301 megawatts of installed wind power capacity through 2012 and 258 MW of solar power, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The Interwest Energy Alliance, a trade group that represents leading renewable energy companies in six Western states, including Colorado, has said that the state’s ranking as one of the top wind power providers has been slipping lately and that the renewables requirements in S.B. 252 could help revitalize the market.

That’s one of the main reasons state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush (D) said she supported S.B. 252.

“S.B. 252 will help the private sector develop new green jobs and maintain the more than 19,000 clean energy jobs in Colorado,” she said, primarily by helping to “increase local renewable installation and new/retrofit construction jobs.”