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Increased rural energy standard bill squeaks through Colo. Senate

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Republicans are seeking to roll back a new law requiring rural electricity providers to draw 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020.

DENVER — After a contentious four-hour debate, the Colorado state senate narrowly approved a proposal to increase the renewable energy standard for rural communities, over the sustained protests of the lawmakers who represent those areas.

Senate Bill 252 requires some of the state’s largest rural cooperative utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020, more than doubling the existing 10 percent mandate.

The legislation cleared the senate on a vote of 18-17.

Two Democrats, Sen. Lois Tochtrop of Thornton and Sen. Mary Hodge of Brighton, joined all 15 Republicans in voting against the bill.

The REAs defined in SB 252 applies to just two entities: Tri-State Generation & Transmission and its 18 Colorado member co-ops; and Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA). Exempted from the bill are municipal utilities with 40,000 or fewer customers, or co-ops with less than 100,000 meters.

The bill also increases opportunities to capture vented methane gas from active and inactive coal mines, as well as landfills, helping to reduce dangerous emissions of a potent greenhouse gas and provide new energy sources.

That’s a piece of the legislation that some rural Republican lawmakers actually like; the bill’s Democratic sponsors folded it into the R.E.S. increase they abhor to make it a somewhat more politically fraught vote.

“This bill will help clean our air while providing rural jobs,” said Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, the bill’s sponsor. “Renewable energy prices are dropping consistently, while the cost of fossil fuels is unstable. We need to make this investment now to ensure that energy prices stay steady, and we are not relying on dirty fossil fuels.”

Republicans argued that the bill’s passage will result in dramatically higher energy costs for farmers and ranchers in rural areas. Democrats, however, disagree.

“This bill hurts the poor, the farmers, the elderly and those on fixed incomes,” said Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction. “By dictating to utilities and customer-owned cooperatives in rural Colorado that they must increase their renewable standard, middle-class families who can’t afford another $20 increase in their monthly utility bills get hurt.”

Republicans also blasted Democrats for not reaching out to any REAs while they were crafting the legislation.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, cheered the bill’s passage.

“Renewable energy has already added thousands of jobs, brought in new investments, and put Colorado on the map as the leader of clean wind and solar energy nationwide,” said Conservation Colorado’s Pete Maysmith.

“This legislation increases access of clean power to all of Colorado, expands local homegrown energy, and opens up new generation markets in capturing methane and power from municipal solid waste. We look forward to SB 252 moving forward so Colorado can remain a leader in clean technology.”

The bill now moves to the House, where Democrats hold a 37-28 advantage, for debate.

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