Moffat County commissioners testify in Denver against renewable energy bill

Measure to increase renewal energy mandates to 25 percent passes Senate committee

In other action...

During its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, the Moffat County Commission:

• Approved, 3-0, March payments of $410,311.80.

• Approved, 3-0, Derrick Atwood’s conditional use permit for a second residence.

• Approved, 3-0, the Taylor gravel pit conditional use permit.

• Approved, 3-0, the sole source purchase of Grown Green fertilizer for $9,659.70 for Loudy-Simpson Park.

• Approved, 3-0, extending a one-year contract with Cugino’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant to operate the concession stand at Loudy-Simpson Park.

• Approved, 3-0, the appointment of Jeffrey Hall to the Moffat County Library Board of Trustees.

• Heard Road and Bridge Department monthly reports.

• Approved, 3-0, a letter of support for state property tax exemption for the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition.

— Efforts to stop a new bill from passing out of a Colorado Senate committee fell short Monday, but rural energy and local elected officials pledged to thwart the measure they say could have dire consequences on rural electric cooperatives.

After several hours of testimony Monday, the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 13-252 on a 3-2 party-line vote.

The measure, sponsored by Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Senate Majority Whip Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, aims to increase the renewable energy mandate on rural Colorado electricity co-ops from 10 percent to 25 percent by 2020.

The bill, introduced a week ago, now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Among the more than 50 opponents who testified Monday against the bill were all three members of the Moffat County Commission.

Commission Chairman Chuck Grobe thinks the bill unfairly targets Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, operator of Craig Station and owner of Trapper Mine.

Though the measure wouldn’t hurt Moffat County customers in the short term — Xcel Energy is a part owner of units one and two at Craig Station and therefore provides a majority of the local electricity — Grobe said he wanted to testify against SB13-252 because it represents another piece of legislation that could hurt rural Coloradans.

“The impacts of this bill on the Yampa Valley are slim, but it affects rural Colorado, and all of rural Colorado needs to stand together against these types of bills,” Grobe said. “It appeared they (the committee) had already made up their minds and that our words fell on deaf ears, but you still have to stand up and make your voices heard.”

Grobe, who was employed by Tri-State for more than 20 years before his election in November 2012 to the Moffat County Commission, said the most frustrating aspect of the bill is the fact that no one from Tri-State was invited to participate in discussions about the measure before it was introduced.

“They heard about it on Friday the same way we did,” Grobe said. “It’s clear they (state lawmakers) are trying to railroad this thing through.”

Jim Van Someren, communications manager for Tri-State in Westminster, said he was disappointed with the outcome despite the efforts by company executives to explain to the committee why a 25 percent renewable energy mandate would be unachievable.

In addition to costs, which Tri-State estimates at $2 billion to $3 billion, Van Someren said there is no infrastructure in place and that it requires, on average, seven years to draw plans, apply for permits and construct any type of a transmission line.

“Urban politicians quite frankly aren’t in tune with what’s going on in rural Colorado and the impacts legislation like this can have,” Van Someren said. “We need to educate Front Range legislators about how co-ops are different.”

For example, Van Someren said, Tri-State is a cost-based, cooperative-owned corporation where electricity is paid exclusively by the consumer. Unlike other utility providers, Tri-State does not have investors it can lean on to offset the costs of infrastructure upgrades. Those costs would be passed on to Tri-State’s Colorado customers.

“We’re not going to give up because it’s going to have such dire consequences on Colorado co-ops and their customers,” Van Someren said. “We’ve always strived to do what’s best for our consumers and we’re not going to sit here and do nothing.”

Morse and Schwartz could not be reached for comment, but members of Colorado's conservation community were delighted by the bill's passage through committee.

Pete Maysmith, executive director of the Conservation Colorado advocacy group, said in an interview with the Denver Business Journal that the proposal is “an excellent step forward for Colorado.”

“It’s more wind, more solar energy and it’s more clean-energy jobs for Colorado,” Maysmith said. “It means more investment in Colorado, more jobs and it means that we’re looking for tomorrow’s energy and tomorrow’s energy future.”

Among other things, the bill allows methane gas captured during oil and gas drilling to count toward the increased renewable energy mandate.

Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or jmoylan@craigdailypress.com.

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