Steamboat Springs State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, vowed Thursday to reverse her “yes” vote in committee Wednesday night on the renewable energy bill unless it is amended to soften the blow for rural communities when it reaches a final vote at the state Capitol.
Senate Bill 13-252, already approved by the state Senate, would require Tri-State Generation and Transmission, operator of the Craig Station power plant, to increase its percentage of power from renewable energy sources from the current mandate of 10 percent by 2020 to 25 percent by 2020. The bill would affect most of the rural electric cooperatives in the state but would have limited impact on Yampa Valley Electric Association, which includes Routt and Moffat counties in its district. That’s because YVEA purchases its electricity from Xcel Energy and not from Tri-State.
“We’re beneficiaries of the fact that Xcel is already well on the way to reaching 30 percent” renewables by 2020, YVEA President and General Manager Dan Brewer said Thursday.
Mitsch Bush, who represents Routt and Eagle counties, was among the members of the House Transportation and Energy Committee who voted Wednesday night to pass the bill on to the full House. But on Thursday, she said she told her fellow committee members she wanted to see changes to the bill because she is concerned about the impacts on rural households, schools and businesses.
“I said I’m a qualified “yes” (but) a “no” on the (House) floor unless there are significant amendments to the bill. I voted “yes” to move it on to have further discussion. We’ll see what amendments come.”
The bill passed the state Senate on April 15 by a 18-17 vote with two Democrats from Front Range districts joining all of the Republican state senators in voting against the measure. Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office has indicated he supports the bill.
Mitsch Bush, who has consistently said her approach to energy in Colorado is “all of the above,” said she had not formulated amendments of her own but would look at giving Tri-State more time to reach lower renewable thresholds.
“I gave a long statement saying I was really torn,” Mitsch Bush said. “On one hand, renewable energy has many, many benefits. When you look at wind and solar, you see lots of small construction companies and sub(contractors) working on these issues. But on the other hand, I don’t want those benefits to come at the expense of working families. And I’m a huge supporter of coal.”
However, state Rep. Bob Rankin — R-Carbondale, representing Moffat, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties — called for a specific reduction in the number of years and percent renewable requirements of the bill.
“I’m absolutely opposed to it, and I’m very disappointed that it wasn’t amended” in committee, Rankin said. “We will debate it for quite awhile on the floor of the House. I’m sure we can’t defeat it; hopefully, we can try to amend it. I’d like to see (a deadline of) 2030 and 15 percent” renewables.
Tri-State officials have said the bill would cost it and its customers $3 billion, but Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, told the Durango Herald this month that the bill caps price increases for consumers at the same 2 percent under which Xcel is operating. Rankin said he hasn’t seen enough specific information about the 2 percent cap and does not trust it.
YVEA’s Brewer said there is one aspect of the bill that would impact his association directly. That is a requirement that YVEA and the rest of the power providers that come under the bill meet a 1 percent threshold for distributed generation — power returned to the grid from household solar panels, for example.
“We’re concerned, but I don’t think it’s a problem for us,” Brewer said. “I think we could get there.”
In that vein, he said YVEA is close to reaching an agreement with a contractor to build a solar garden in Craig that would allow its members to purchase solar energy produced there.
Rankin said he thinks the bill is being pushed by legislators whose constituents would not be affected, then corrected himself and said one of the co-sponsors is Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass. The other sponsor is Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.
“I think this bill is an insult. It’s crafted and sponsored by Front Range people,” Rankin said. “Tri-State doesn’t know how it could meet this mandate.”
Moffat County Commissioner and former longtime Tri-State employee Chuck Grobe told the Craig Daily Press this month that the bill strikes him as being punitive.
“Tri-State is destined to fail to meet the mandates of this legislation, and for what? Maybe those Front Range guys just feel they need to penalize us for living in the country,” Grobe said.
Mitsch Bush said she supports a variety of forms of renewable energy including biomass from beetle-killed trees, but added that the jobs provided by coal in Northwest Colorado are essential to the economy. She said she thinks locally mined coal, which is low in sulfur and mercury while yielding high Btu, is unfairly lumped in with less-desirable coal.
“I don’t think our need for fossil fuels will go away, certainly not in the period of this bill,” she said.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com