Senate Bill 252

The Colorado Legislature was decisive in passing a bill this session requiring rural co-ops and energy providers to increase their renewable portfolios to 20 percent by 2020. What followed, though, was a period of indecision from Gov. John Hickenlooper, who took his time in signing the measure after some energy providers balked at the notion and launched very expensive public campaigns urging its veto. On Wednesday, Hickenlooper stood strong in endorsing the Legislature’s action and supporting the notion that Colorado can do more to diversify its energy portfolio. He did the right thing.

Senate Bill 252 pushes rural energy providers to expand their power menus to include larger helpings of renewable sources by 2020. The measure recognizes that this effort will take money, and allows consumers to help in that investment with a rate increase of up to 2 percent. Both are reasonable requirements.

In his signing statement, Hickenlooper points out that Tri-State Generation & Transmission – La Plata Electric Association’s energy provider – is already ahead of the current requirements and is not burdening its consumers with the associated cost. “Tri-State and its member cooperatives are exceeding current renewable requirements without a 1 percent net retail rate impact. This gives us confidence that the increased renewable energy goal of SB13-252 can be achieved without exceeding the additional 1 percent rate increase limit set forth in this bill,” Hickenlooper said.

That argument counters the position held by those who oppose the measure, claiming that it will cost ratepayers billions to fully implement. As Hickenlooper said, “The assertion that this legislation will levy billions in costs to rural consumers is not borne out by the facts.”

Instead, SB 252 gives utilities and co-ops a nudge in the necessary direction: toward renewable energy sources and away from traditional fossil fuels. The array of options included in the measure is broad – far beyond just wind and solar – linked by the common trait of being “greenhouse-gas neutral.” That includes biomass as well as coal mine methane and gas generated by the pyrolysis of municipal waste. The bill also convenes a commission to evaluate these and other energy options considered for inclusion on the list of green-lit renewables.

Hickenlooper is right in saying that SB 252 is not perfect legislation, but it is a very good start in a very important direction. As the measure is implemented in the coming years, it will be crucial to move with deliberation and evaluation of how it is affecting ratepayers and providers, as well as its overall impact on the mix of energy sources used in Colorado. There will certainly be room to modify and improve the measure as it transitions from an idea to its practical application. Recognizing it as a work in progress that begins from a well-conceived position is the correct approach. Vetoing SB 252 because it is not perfect, only to start over, is not.

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