House passes controversial renewable energy mandate bill

A controversial bill that increases renewable energy mandates for rural electricity cooperatives was approved by the Colorado House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Colorado Senate Bill 13-252, which ups the renewable energy mandates from 10 percent to 20 percent by 2020, passed by a 37-27 vote.

Though the bill passed Tuesday, it did not make it out of the House completely unscathed. In its original version, which passed earlier this month in the Senate, the bill called for an increase in renewable energy mandates from 10 percent to 25 percent by 2020. An amendment dropping the mandate to 20 percent was passed last week in the House.

The bill specifically targets Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, operator of the coal-fired Craig Station power plant. Tri-State officials have been adamantly opposed to the legislation since it was first introduced in April.

Jim Van Someren, communications manager for Tri-State in Westminster, said the amendment reducing the mandate from 25 percent to 20 percent did little to soften the company's position against the legislation.

"We still oppose it (the bill)," Van Someren said.

The legislation would have a minimal impact on Yampa Valley Electric Association, which purchases its electricity from Xcel Energy.

The bill now returns to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

During his testimony Tuesday against the bill, Colorado House District 57 Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, said both sides of the aisle were guilty of presenting false arguments.

In an effort to stray from the focus of pitting fossil fuels against renewables or rural Colorado versus urban Colorado, Rankin told fellow representatives that SB13-252 represented more than just a debate about energy.

“I came here to represent rural Colorado and I knew as a rural legislator I would be outnumbered and that I would have to fight for our heritage, but I didn’t expect I would have to fight this hard,” Rankin said. “We do not want to divide the two parts of our culture, we want to bring them together.

“We need to look at the big picture and not just support renewable (energy) lobbyists. We need to look at this as an opportunity to support the culture and the heritage of this state.”

But Rankin didn’t pass up the opportunity to slam the renewable energy industry.

“Wind energy is touted as a replacement for fossil fuel-powered generation, (but) since the wind blows intermittently and unpredictably, it must be backed up by fast-start natural gas generation for an average of 70 percent of the time,” Rankin said in a statement. “Since fast-start natural gas generation releases more carbon than slower started combined cycle natural gas generation, CO2 release is roughly the same for a wind farm with natural gas backup as full-time, combined cycle natural gas-powered generation.”

House District 26 Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, voted in favor of the legislation, citing her belief that the bill is not an attack on "high-quality, high-BTU, low-sulphur, low-mercury Colorado coal," which she said will be a staple of Colorado energy production for the next 50 years.

"I voted 'yes' on SB252 because I believe this legislation will help the private sector develop new green jobs and maintain the more than 19,000 clean energy jobs in Colorado," Mitsch Bush wrote in an email Tuesday night. "I heard from many constituents in the construction industry in our district (including Routt and Eagle counties) that renewable projects kept them going during the recession.

"New jobs and new businesses will emerge as the demand for renewables increases. This includes coal mine methane, biomass and pyrolysis of landfill materials."

Mitsch Bush previously voted for the bill in committee, but said after her vote that she wouldn't support it on the House floor unless it was amended. She said she co-sponsored the amendment that reduced the requirement from 25 percent to 20 percent.

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

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