DENVER – The Colorado Senate on Tuesday advanced a measure that would roll back a rural renewable-energy standard backed by Democrats in 2013.
The bill could face its final vote in the Republican-controlled Senate as early as Wednesday, when the measure is likely to move to the House. But the legislation faces a bumpy road in the Democratic-controlled House.
Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, addresses both larger and rural utilities.
For larger providers, the renewable-energy mandate would drop from 30 percent by 2020 to 15 percent by 2020; for rural electricity co-ops, the requirement would drop from 20 percent by 2020 to 15 percent by 2020.
“We want to make sure we’re not pushing the envelope so far that we’re hurting consumers,” Scott addressed his colleagues on the Senate floor. “Especially the rural consumers and the farm community that are really having to pay a huge price for these new standards that were passed a few years ago.”
The issue reached a tipping point in 2013 when Democrats pushed the rural standard. Republicans called it an over-reach.
The standards – established by voters in 2004 – have been strengthened over the years by Democratic governors and legislatures. Larger utilities said the mandates are attainable without much burden.
But rural co-ops spoke of cost barriers that are often passed on to ratepayers. Consumers in rural Western Colorado have reported spiked rates as a result.
But Democrats on Tuesday said the requirements are about lowering costs over time, pointing out that wind and solar can actually be cheaper than traditional energy sources.
“If you’re concerned about the middle class and costs and reliability, you should be voting ‘No’ on this bill,” said Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, a longtime advocate of renewable energy. “We should be keeping the 30 percent renewable standard, the 20 percent renewable standard. That has made our state one of the centers in the country and in our world.”
The middle-class theme continued for Democrats, with Rollie Heath of Boulder, the assistant Democratic leader, pointing to job growth, with more than 22,000 clean-energy jobs at an average salary of about $78,000.
But Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, challenged the notion that average Coloradans are benefiting from the mandates.
“When you talk about the middle class and what the middle class wants, the middle class wants clean, affordable and also abundant energy,” Neville said. “The middle class does not want the people in this Legislature trying to make decisions and picking winners and losers when it comes to energy.”