Democrats kill GOP effort to repeal rural renewable energy standard

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DENVER — Senate Democrats quickly killed a Republican bill that aimed to overturn legislation, approved by Democrats last year, that increased the renewable energy standard for rural electricity providers.

The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, known around the Capitol as the “kill committee” — where Democrats send Republican bills to die, voted down Senate Bill 35 on a 3-2 party-line vote Wednesday afternoon.

“Every bill is given a full and fair hearing,” said the committee chairman, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams County, after a number of complaints by Republicans that so many of their bills have been sent to this panel of lawmakers.

“There is no promise on outcome, there is a promise on a fair hearing.”

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, sponsored the legislation, arguing that Senate Bill 252, passed last year, is hurting rural Colorado by forcing rural electricity providers to draw more of their energy (20 percent) from renewable sources by the year 2020.

“You are impacting the economy of the entire state,” Harvey told Democrats. “So, I say let’s repeal it and do right for the citizens of Colorado.”

Harvey also blasted Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for signing the measure despite reservations.

“He still signed into law a terrible bill. He admitted it was terrible, he admitted it had problems and then he appointed a committee that did nothing to fix it,” Harvey said.

Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, who spearheaded a movement by 11 rural Colorado counties to secede and form their own state that was partly sparked by outrage over the passage of S.B. 252, asked the Democrat-controlled committee to be more bipartisan in hearing concerns about rising energy costs in rural parts of the state.

“The unfairness of that bill is what really riled people up.” said Conway.

While three witnesses supported Harvey’s bill, eight testified against it on Wednesday.

“We don’t see a need to reverse last year’s legislative decisions that help expand renewable energy and grow jobs,” said Susan Innis, Vestas Wind Energy. “Last year was a good year for us. We’ve added more than 300 jobs.”

“It’s a win-win-win. It’s good jobs, cleaner energy and cheaper,” said Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, explaining that Xcel Energy is shifting its energy portfolio toward wind energy because, above all, it’s cheaper.

Harvey argued that Xcel is able to support the legislation because it’s such a large conglomerate.

“XCel Energy has 35 customers per mile, so they can absorb that cost more easily,” Harvey said. “If you want to look at San Miguel County, it has seven customers per mile. Those areas can’t absorb 100 percent increase in their cost, their mandate, over the next 10 years.

“You’re saying to rural Colorado, that has five homes per mile, that they have to absorb that cost.”

The legislation includes a 2 percent cap on energy cost increases as a result of the increased renewable energy standard.

On Monday, Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, told reporters that people in rural Colorado expressed more concerns about access to rural internet and transportation infrastructure than any anger over S.B. 252.

“When we spoke with the folks who were both initially for [Senate Bill 252] and against it, everyone’s really asking that we leave it on status quo and folks feel like we can come into compliance with it,” said Carroll.

At the end of the hearing, Ulibarri said there are tweaks to the legislation that Democrats would support.

“That’s what the conversation should be,” he said. “Not repeal.”

Following the final vote, Conservation Colorado praised the bill’s defeat in a statement.

“The legislature passed Senate Bill 252, the governor signed it, and a citizen’s stakeholder committee agreed that SB 252’s target of 20 percent by 2020 was doable and that the law’s provisions to protect consumers are strong,” said Pete Maysmith, the group’s executive director.

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