Steamboat Springs In a party-line vote, the Colorado House of Representatives gave initial approval this week to a bill that would add methane gas captured from active or inactive coal mines to the state’s renewable energy standard.
Only one Democrat supported House Bill 1160 in Tuesday’s 34-29 vote. The bill was introduced by House District 57 Rep. Randy Baumgardner, a Cowdrey Republican who represents Routt County.
Democratic opposition argued that methane isn’t a renewable energy source, but Baumgardner said methane is a “constant energy source” because it regularly is being released into the air.
“We’d like to promote this type of energy development,” he said Wednesday. “It made sense if we were going to capture methane, we might as well use it instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere. It’s just another viable energy source that nobody’s using.”
Rep. Randy Fischer, a Fort Collins Democrat, said Thursday that despite “widespread support” for capturing methane and using it as an energy source, it’s not renewable. Fischer, a consulting engineer who specializes in the reclamation and remediation of abandoned mine sites, said methane belongs somewhere else in the state statutes.
“I really want to applaud Rep. Baumgardner for bringing the bill forward,” he said. “I think the concept of capturing methane from coal mines is something we definitely do need to take seriously. I’m open and willing to work with him, and I think the members of our caucus would be willing to work with him, too.”
Baumgardner said the technology to capture methane and convert it to electricity already is under way.
North Fork Energy estimates that it can produce as much as 40 megawatts of electricity by capturing methane from the Elk Creek Mine in Gunnison County, according to the Vessels Coal Gas website. North Fork was crated by Vessels, Oxbow Mining, and Gunnison Energy Corp.
The website states that Holy Cross Energy, which provides electricity services to the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys, will be North Fork’s first customer. It stated that the company intended to start generating electricity midyear.
Making methane a renewable energy source, with renewable energy credits, would make it easier for electric cooperatives to meet state-required renewable energy standards, Yampa Valley Electric Association General Manager Larry Covillo said Wednesday.
Colorado’s renewable energy standard requires that 30 percent of retail electricity sales be renewable by 2020.
Allowing methane to be considered renewable weakens the state standard, Fischer said.
But Covillo said using methane from active or inactive coal mines would benefit everybody in the state.
“Certainly, there are abandoned coal mines in Routt and Moffat counties,” he said. “This offers a possibility that someone can come in and try to get the gas off some of those sites. It has a possibility of impacting our economy by creating jobs and construction and bringing money into the counties.”
To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com