Energy Policy and Colorado
Farmers and rural homeowners in Northern Colorado on Wednesday added their voices to a statewide chorus calling on Gov. Hickenlooper to veto a bill certain to raise their electric bills.
Hickenlooper said Thursday he will meet with executives from Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which provides power to 18 rural electric co-ops and is one of the two entities targeted by SB 252 (the other is the Intermountain Rural Electric Association).
Tri-State executives claim the bill will cost the co-ops at least $2 billion to implement.
House Republicans accused Democrats of waging war on rural Colorado when legislators voted Tuesday to increase the renewable-energy mandate for electricity cooperatives. ...The bill passed 37-27, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans against.
"This would just be terrible for the dairies around here," said Weld County Commissioner and Platteville-area farmer Doug Rademacher, who added that Weld County's five-member Board of County Commissioners has spoken out against Senate Bill 252. "It would really be disastrous for all of ag. A farmer told me the other day this could increase his electricity costs for (groundwater) pumping by about $8,000 per month."
"You're not promoting Colorado jobs. You're promoting jobs in other states where you can buy power to meet the mandate," Mathers said. "This bill provides no advantage to businesses in Colorado or promoting our economy."
Perhaps the greatest injustice, Grobe said, is the fact hydroelectric power is absent among the bill's list of approved sources of renewable energy.
"This is a leap to family insolvency... this is environmental bullying," King said. He noted that state-owned facilities pay $5.6 million per year for electricity to the rural co-ops, and SB 252 will increase their electric bills. "Where's the fiscal note?" he asked repeatedly. And why wasn't Tri-State and IREA invited to the table when the bill was being drafted? he asked. "Just because you have the power to do something doesn't mean you should do it," referring to the Democratic majority in both chambers and the governor's mansion.
Kent Singer of the Colorado Rural Electric Association said the co-ops serve 70 percent of the state's land mass but only 25 percent of the state's population, which he called "light density" and which means that costs are spread out over a much smaller customer base.
On the Eastern Plains vast stretches of farmland beckon wind developers. But in a state where agriculture is the second largest economy, the difficulty has been how to harvest what blows above the land while not losing the harvest grown on it.
"What we don't want to do is allow the wind developers to come in and buy the rights," said Rep. Jon Becker, R-Morgan County.
The standard, however, is close to being met, and the future for renewable-energy incentives is uncertain. So, the question is: What is renewable energy's future in Colorado?
"Are we going to see the billion dollars in renewable investment that was made in the last five years repeated in the next few years?"
Pueblo's rising energy costs are among their chief worries, they say. ...Tony Knopp, manager of the wind turbine maker Vestas' tower plant, said he understands many industries' concerns about rising energy bills.
Still, Knopp said, he's convinced the greater use of renewable energy will pay off
Officials pushing the bills say that energy prices soar and consumers suffer when utilities are required to allocate a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar. Clean energy groups counter that lowering the bar on state renewable energy policies would stifle new investment and kill jobs.
Lawmakers referenced the movies "Alice in Wonderland" and "Ishtar" during a sometimes bizarre debate on a renewable-energy bill that tied up the Senate for a day and a half.
Republicans argued that the Democrat-sponsored measure mandates that large utilities rely more heavily on "taxpayer-subsidized energy sources," mainly wind and solar.
Huerfano County, which straddles the Eastern Plains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is facing a wind rush.
Three wind-farm projects - particularly one near scenic La Veta Pass - have galvanized grassroots opposition and posed a challenge for county planning officials.
"When voters and legislators adopted renewable-energy goals, I don't know if they were thinking of turning rural Colorado into an industrial zone," said Dawn Blanken, a La Veta councilwoman.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said Saturday that he would veto legislation requiring a third of California's energy to come from renewable sources by 2020, choosing instead to mandate the change through an executive order.
The Democratic bills that passed the state Legislature just before the end of the legislative session Friday would have set up the most aggressive renewable energy standards in the nation.
But they also sought to limit the amount of energy from sources such as wind, solar and geothermal that could come from out-of-state.
Rural electric cooperative managers told the Public Utilities Commission on Thursday to keep its hands off their power supplier.
Clean-energy advocates, however, urged the state to take a greater role in regulating Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, saying the coal-heavy company's power plants affect everyone, not just its customers.
A showdown is shaping up as state regulators consider whether to increase oversight of Colorado's second-largest electric utility, a wholesale power provider owned by several rural cooperatives. ...the PUC said more oversight might make sense given Colorado's emphasis on developing more renewable energy and concerns about climate change.
The state needs to come up with nearly 5,000 megawatts of electricity to satisfy the needs of the state by 2025 ...Northeast Colorado has been rightly billed as a wind energy mecca. The problem is wind energy cannot be the end-all, according to Sonnenberg. Supporting a statement made earlier by CREA Executive Director Ray Clifton, Sonnenberg said wind energy resources are available only 10 to 35 percent of the time.
"Even if we estimate liberally, we still will not meet the 4,500 megawatts by 2025," he said.
The coal burning power plant at Rawhide constructed 25 years ago provides PRPA with 70 percent of its energy needs.
Of the remaining gap, 17 percent is generated through hydro projects in scattered locations with the remaining 13 percent gained by natural gas, wind and power purchases made from surrounding utilities.
Pending federal carbon tax legislation could make coal plant operations increasingly more costly forcing many utilities, including PRPA, to turn to cleaner, albeit more expensive, energy forms suc wind.
Historically, PRPA has bolstered its renewable portfolio through the purchase of renewable energy credits, or RECs, that allow it to invest in wind farms owned by others who pay for main-tenance and repairs.
If a carbon tax were instituted, PRPA would not get credit for RECs and would only see benefit from its homegrown Medicine Bow wind project built nearly a decade ago. Last year, wind power generated 1 percent of PRPA's total energy, Moeck said. ..."Basically we're becoming more dependent on electricity every day,
Troxell said. "It's not simply the plasma screens and air conditioners, either. We live in a digital world that is powered by electricity ..."
The state requires municipally owned Springs Utilities to derive 1 percent from renewables annually from 2008 to 2010, 3 percent from 2011 to 2014, 6 percent from 2015 to 2019 and 10 percent by 2020.
More daunting is the possibility that federal lawmakers will impose carbon taxes to drive down reliance on coal. No one knows how much that would cost, but Springs Utilities could pay $150 million a year - about 16 percent of its current budget. That's a big incentive to find alternatives, and wind is one of those. ...The city's most recent poll showed 76 percent of residential customers surveyed are willing to pay $1 to $2 more a month to support wind. That's the estimated financial impact of using 50 megawatts of wind, which translates to 3.3 percent of the city's energy needs per year.
The reason it doesn't account for more is that wind is an intermittent resource, and power is available from it only 35 percent of the time, Knopp said.
Utilities' customer poll also showed 71 percent of the city's business customers support wind if it causes bills to increase by 1 percent or less.