Craig, Moffat County organizations launch campaign against renewable energy bill

SB13-252 scheduled Monday for 3rd reading in Senate

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Randy Baumgardner

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Diane Mitsch Bush

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Audrey Danner

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“We’re against the bill because it specifically targets Tri-State. Tri-State and the coal industry are critical to northwest Colorado and we can’t allow east slope legislators to make arbitrary decisions that affect the industries we depend on.”

Chris Oxley, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, about an online petition against Senate Bill 13-252.

— Two Moffat County organizations last week launched a campaign to stop a bill that would increase renewable energy mandates on rural Colorado electric cooperatives.

Senate Bill 13-252, sponsored by Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Senate Majority Whip Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, would increase renewable energy mandates on rural Colorado electric cooperatives — namely Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association — from 10 to 25 percent by 2020.

The measure mainly has been criticized for the high infrastructure costs cooperatives like Tri-State would endure if the bill is signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Tri-State officials have estimated those costs at $2 billion to $3 billion, which would be passed on to its Colorado customers.

In a letter sent Thursday to District 8 Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey, House District 57 Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and House District 26 Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership Board urged Yampa Valley lawmakers to oppose the bill, citing the detrimental effects higher energy costs would have on economic development in Northwest Colorado.

“Electricity and utilities play a huge role in our ability to conduct business,” said Audrey Danner, interim director of Economic Development Partnership. “To increase those mandates and raise rates not only makes it more difficult on small businesses still trying to recover from the economic downturn, but also hurts our ability to recruit new businesses to the area.”

In addition, the partnership letter raises issue with the fact that hydroelectric generation, recognized at the federal level as an approved source of renewable energy, would be prohibited under SB13-252.

“This bill renews the renewable energy agenda, which I believe in, but not including hydroelectricity will be burdensome on the industry,” Danner said.

Baumgardner agrees and said Saturday that the bill is hypocritical.

Following its April 3 introduction in the Senate, Baumgardner criticized the bill for including language approving coal mine methane gas as a source of renewable energy.

Baumgardner twice has carried legislation to add coal mine methane gas to Colorado’s renewable energy portfolio. On both occasions, Baumgardner’s bill was killed in committee.

“It’s a carrot designed to attract as many supporters" as possible, Baumgardner said. “I keep asking (Senate Democrats) what’s changed. Why do they think coal mine methane is an acceptable source of renewable energy this month when they killed my bill last month?”

Joining the Economic Development Partnership last week in their campaign against SB13-252 was the Craig Chamber of Commerce, which started an online petition against the measure.

Chris Oxley, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, said she started the petition to provide residents with an easy option to show that they are unified against SB13-252.

“We’re against the bill because it specifically targets Tri-State,” Oxley said. “Tri-State and the coal industry are critical to Northwest Colorado, and we can’t allow East Slope legislators to make arbitrary decisions that affect the industries we depend on.”

Residents may view and sign the petition by visiting www.change.org/petitions/colorado-general-assembly-oppose-senate-bill-13-252-increasing-renewable-energy-standards#share.

Despite opposition from rural communities like Craig, Senate Democrats contend the bill is supported by a majority of rural Colorado residents and business owners.

“Colorado has become a national leader in renewable energy, but the economic and health benefits of investments in technologies, such as wind and solar, are not shared by all Coloradans,” Morse said in a news release. “Increasing the market for clean energy for our state’s largest cooperative utilities will ensure our rural utilities are working hard for rural families and businesses.

“It will be good for our air, individual pocketbooks and the bottom line for businesses.”

On Friday, SB13-252 passed by a voice vote in the Senate on second reading, Baumgardner said. It is scheduled Monday for a third and final vote in the Senate.

“It’s more of a formality at this point,” Baumgardner said. “We have two Democrats with (Republicans), but we need to flip one more, and I’m not sure that is going to happen.”

If passed Monday, the bill will head to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Although it is expected to pass through the Democrat-controlled House, as well, there’s no guarantee.

In a Friday voicemail message to the Craig Daily Press, Mitsch Bush said she would be a "no" vote on SB13-252 unless concessions were made.

On Sunday, she expanded on her earlier comments, saying she has asked officials at Holy Cross Energy in Eagle County and Yampa Valley Electric Association to compile data on what the potential per kilowatt hour increases would be on ratepayers and businesses in her district.

"The problem is there is some really good stuff in this bill, like adding coal mine methane gas as a renewable energy source," Mitsch Bush said. "I'm still trying to get the facts because my No. 1 concern is how the bill will affect ratepayers in the district, but I also want to know how the bill will affect businesses in Colorado overall."

Joe Moylan can be reached at 970-875-1794 or jmoylan@craigdailypress.com.

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