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HB10-1001: Governor Ups Ante on Renewables; Critics Fear Cost

By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY

By the year 2020, Colorado will have one the most aggressive standards in the country for renewable energy if lawmakers embrace mandates to make utilities use more wind and solar power. That’s the upshot of legislation championed by Gov. Bill Ritter, personally, in a House committee today.

“It’s time once again to push the envelope and keep Colorado out front as a national leader,” Ritter told the House Transportation and Energy Committee in a rare legislative appearance as lawmakers took up House Bill 1001.

The measure, sponsored by first-term Democratic Rep. Max Tyler, of Golden, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Aspen, will raise the minimum amount of renewable energy that investor-owned utilities in Colorado must use in generating power–from the current standard of 20 percent by 2020 to 30 percent by that year. The proposal accelerates a key component of Ritter’s signature New Energy Economy but is drawing criticism from minority Republicans, who say it’s a potentially costly and overreaching policy that ignores the advantages of cheap and reliable coal power.

A proposed provision of the bill allows the Public Utilities Commission to take a look at the efficacy of the energy standards in 2014 and permits the regulatory panel to lower the required percentage if it finds that the higher percentage is no longer in the public interest.

The governor also said that enacting the bill will help create thousands of jobs in Colorado over the next decade, spurring new technologies and innovations in a bid to increase economic, environmental and energy security.

“It will keep the brightest light in what continues to be a very difficult economy shining brightly,” Ritter said.

Yet, the GOP’s Rep. Frank McNulty, of Highlands Ranch, went after the governor over aspects of the bill that presume some forms of energy will be more beneficial than others in the future – despite potential economic drawbacks, and efficiency concerns.

“How important is that to you and to your agenda as you move these pieces forward?” McNulty asked the governor.

“It’s the right path toward environmental challenges, and I think that the science supports this,” Ritter said. “We need to take a leadership role in looking at greenhouse gas emissions and what part of that is caused by humans, and human use, and fossil-fuels use”

Stuart Sanderson of the Colorado Mining Association told the panel in testimony that he is concerned that many employed in the industry will lose their jobs if coal is overlooked in favor of other sources.

“Our concern is that this bill does not mandate the most affordable energy source,” said Sanderson.

Rep. Diane Primavera, D-Broomfield, said she was under the impression that there was a limited supply of coal–less than 20 years’ worth–but Sanderson dissented.

“The Energy Information Administration has projected that there is a 250-year supply,” he said.

Ritter, however, said pushing for greater energy diversity is the only responsible path.

“We absolutely must diversify our energy portfolio in order to protect everything that makes Colorado so special,” Ritter said.

Committee members postponed a vote on the measure until their next meeting although passage is deemed likely; Ritter’s fellow Democrats hold a majority in both chambers of the General Assembly.

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