Filed under: Abound Solar, Archive, CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, HB 1365, Legal, Legislation, PUC, renewable energy
The Clean Power Plan’s timeline for compliance may see an extension, and the final rule itself may be revealed next Monday:
The final version of President Obama’s signature climate change policy is expected to extend an earlier timeline for states to significantly cut planet-warming pollution from power plants, according to people familiar with the plan.
If enacted, the climate change plan, the final version of which is expected to be unveiled as early as Monday, could stand as the most significant action ever taken by an American president to curb global warming. But some environmental groups have cautioned that a later deadline for states to comply could make it tougher for the United States to meet Mr. Obama’s climate change pledges on the world stage.
The plan consists of three major environmental regulations, which combined are intended to drastically cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The rules take aim at coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse emissions, and are intended to spur a transformation of the nation’s power sector from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as wind and solar. Under the rules, the Environmental Protection Agency would require states to draft plans to lower emissions from power plants. The agency is also expected to issue its own model of a state-level plan, to be imposed on states that refuse to draft their own plans.
The final rules would extend the timeline for states and electric utilities to comply, compared with a draft proposal put forth by the E.P.A. in June last year, according to people who are familiar with the plan but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about it.
The Independence Institute’s backgrounder on the Clean Power Plan and its devastating effects on our energy choice and enormous costs to taxpayers and the economy in general can be found here.
Much of the public land in the Rocky Mountain west is administered not by the states but by the federal government all the way from DC–and the debate over who should ultimately preside over these vast swathes of federal land has seen a resurgence:
Not since the Sagebrush Rebellion in 1979 has the debate over whether it’s time for federal lands to fall to states’ control gained such attention, and the anti-federal-government sentiment and talking points aren’t likely to dissipate as the West heads toward the next presidential election.
The fight stirred in 2012 when the Utah legislature passed the Transfer of Public Lands Act to demand authority over millions of acres of federal land by last New Year’s Eve. It didn’t happen.
Eight states cumulatively considered 30 bills around the issue this year. In March, Republicans in the U.S. Senate passed, without a single Democratic vote, a symbolic resolution in support of transferring or trading land to states. The resolution, though, doesn’t give Congress or any federal agency additional power to make deals.
And in the last Colorado legislative session there were three bills around the subject. Only one passed. House Bill 1225, a bipartisan bill supported by environmental groups, strengthens communities’ position in saying how local federal lands are managed.
Opponents of devolving control of public lands to the states cite the enormous costs of maintaining them, arguing states are not prepared to shoulder the added burden of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual upkeep.
For example, a single wildfire could cripple Colorado, said Governor John Hickenlooper’s advisor:
The federal government also picks up the costs for wildfires on federal lands. But just one massive wildfire in Colorado — a state that can have several in one year — could obliterate the state budget, said John Swartout, a Republican who is Hickenlooper’s top policy adviser on land, wildlife and conservation issues.
“The solution is constructive engagement,” Swartout said. “Are we always going to be happy with all the decisions? No. But we’re going to get a lot farther helping create the final solution.”
More than 1/3 of Colorado is subject to federal jurisdiction. Whether or not the debate develops into a political conflagration or peters out in favor of other issues remains to be seen, but expect energy producers and environmental activists to keep a close eye on how the narrative proceeds.
WildEarth Guardians won’t hesitate to launch a legal battle, as a recent look at the group’s lawsuit filings shows:
Though a relatively small organization with only 26 people on staff, WildEarth Guardians’ litigious nature has established the environmental advocacy group as a dominant voice in the national debate about environmental policy.
From 2010 to present, Guardians have initiated a total of 152 cases in federal district courts and 55 in the Circuit Court of Appeals for a total of 207 cases. In 2010 alone they filed 61 claims — an average of about one per week.
However, Guardians’ pervasiveness in the courts has not gone without criticism.
In a 2012 analysis of WildEarth Guardians’ legal activity, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity claimed that Guardians has been “misusing the judicial system, exploiting poorly-written laws and taking advantage of taxpayers to pursue a narrow, litigation-driven, special interest agenda.”
For Coloradans, especially those in Craig and surrounding areas, lawsuits from the group have drawn the ire of residents and businesses for favoring costly litigation as a first-stop solution:
Lee Boughey, senior manager of corporate communications and public affairs for Tri-State, said in a statement that the courts should not be a first resort.
“Environmental policy, regulations and law should be set by state legislatures and Congress, and based on sound science, a thorough cost-benefit analysis and appropriate timeframes for implementation. These are difficult issues, and it is a far better for all stakeholders to commit to work together to develop sound regulatory policy that take these consideration into account, as opposed to running straight to the courts,” he said.
The group remains adamant, saying, the “legal system is oftentimes the last recourse of justice for interests and peoples that have been marginalized or whose issues haven’t been heard.”
In the case of Colowyo Mine, the marginalized appear to be the local residents, workers, and communities.
A pair of energy-related ballot measures will appear in November in Boulder, including a Climate Action tax:
Boulder officials also want to ask voters to extend the portion of the utility occupation tax on energy bills that replaces Xcel Energy’s franchise fee and provides roughly $4.1 million to the city’s general fund each year. It is not the portion of the tax that funds analysis and legal efforts toward municipalization, which is not on the ballot. The municipal energy utility would also have to pay a similar amount into the general fund, but that utility may not be up and running by 2017, when the tax expires. The proposed ballot measure would extend the tax through 2022.
The Climate Action Plan tax, which funds energy-efficiency programs and solar rebates, will also appear on the ballot. That tax expires in March 2018, and city leaders believe the programs ultimately will be paid for out of utility rates. However, that won’t be possible until the utility is up and running. The proposed ballot measure would extend the tax through March 2023 so that those programs could continue regardless of progress on the municipal utility.
Progressive left logic: Progressives want to destroy ALEC. Moderate Republican PUC nominee Glenn Vaad has been a member of ALEC. Therefore progressives want to destroy Glenn Vaad even though he has supported increasing Colorado’s renewable energy mandate and fuel switching.
The progressive left’s criticism of Governor John Hickenlooper’s appointment of former State Representative Glenn Vaad (R-Mead) to Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) appears to part of a coordinated national campaign against the American Legislative Exchange Council rather than Vaad’s record on energy policy, which is more in line with Democrats than free market conservatives. Vaad is awaiting State Senate confirmation, which is likely to happen sometime this week.
ALEC is a nonpartisan voluntary membership organization for conservative state lawmakers “who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” ALEC promotes such dangerous ideas like reducing excessive government spending, limiting the overall tax burden, choice in education, and market-based approach to renewable energy sources. As a state lawmaker, Glenn Vaad was a member.
The progressive left is obsessed with ALEC. In May 2013 several progressive organizations with ties to Colorado met to “coordinate their attack plan” as the Washington Free Beacon reported:
Leading progressive organizers met on May 10 to coordinate their attack plan against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), discussing ways to pressure corporations into abandoning the group for its small-government advocacy and turn against what they call the “vast, right-wing conspiracy.”
The participants, including representatives from such far-left groups as Common Cause, Color of Change, and ProgressNow, met for lunch in a conference room at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The Free Beacon quoted Aniello Alioto of ProgressNow Colorado, summing up the strategy on attacking ALEC, “Never relent, never let up pressure, and always increase.”
By law, the three-member PUC cannot have more than two members from any one party. With Republican member James Tarpey retiring and the other two members Pam Patton and Chairman Joshua Epel being Democrats, that means the Governor had to find a qualified applicant within the Republican Party. In theory, he could have looked for someone inside the Constitution, Libertarian, or Green Parties, but it’s likely that the qualified applicant pool was rather shallow.
So Governor Hickenlooper selected a very moderate Republican Rep. Vaad, who has the necessary qualifications as a former Weld County Commissioner and longtime employee of the Colorado Department of Transportation. Vaad’s 2011 Colorado Union of Taxpayers’ rating (a conservative legislative scorecard) was a modest 50 out of 100. Only nine House Republicans scored lower.
When it comes to energy policy, the environmental left should be pleased with Vaad’s nomination. As a state representative, Vaad co-sponsored HB07-1281, the bill to increase Colorado’s renewable mandate to 20 percent. He also sponsored then Governor Bill Ritter’s crowning jewel of his “new energy economy,” the controversial fuel-switching bill HB10-1365, which got nearly unanimous approval from the Democrat caucus but proved quite divisive for Republicans.
But Vaad’s actual legislative record doesn’t seem to matter. To the progressive left, his appointment is more about ALEC than Colorado’s PUC as the far-left Colorado Independent reports:
Groups opposed to Vaad’s appointment say he has not just been an ALEC member but an officer. They point to documents and reports posted by consumer-advocacy groups like Common Cause and progressive-politics organizations like the Center for Media and Democracy that show Vaad was Chair of the ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development task force while he was serving in the state legislature in 2011 and 2012 and that he had been accepting ALEC “scholarships” every year he was in the legislature dating back to 2006.
According to a press release from Gabe Elsner, executive director at the Energy and Policy Institute, quoted in the Independent:
There is a clear conflict of interest…In the past year, ALEC’s utility and fossil fuel members lobbied lawmakers in at least 15 states to introduce legislation repealing Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards. Now ALEC is launching a new wave of attacks on clean energy policies like solar net metering… There’s a real threat that Mr. Vaad will serve ALEC’s special interest members instead of Colorado families.
Well first, Rep. Vaad hasn’t been in the state legislature since the spring of 2012, and Mr. Elsner is talking about 2013. Also, there is no evidence that Vaad ever introduced legislation to repeal the renewable energy mandate. In fact, as stated earlier, he did just the opposite. (Although he did oppose HB10-1001, the 30 percent renewable mandate bill). Furthermore, he was on the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development task force not the Energy, Environment and Agriculture.
Progressive left logic: Progressives want to destroy ALEC. Moderate Republican PUC nominee Glenn Vaad has been a member of ALEC. Therefore progressives want to destroy Glenn Vaad even though he has supported increasing Colorado’s renewable energy mandate and fuel switching.
The bottom line is that the opposition to Glenn Vaad is about attacking ALEC rather than Vaad’s qualifications or his perspective on energy policy. So the progressive left is willing to sacrifice about the best appointee they can hope for in order to “never let up the pressure, and always increase.”
I did call Glenn Vaad for comment but as of posting he has not returned the call.
By Amy Oliver Cooke and Robert Applegate
As Ron Binz campaigns to be confirmed as the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, much of the emphasis has been on his position as an activist for what he considers to be low or no carbon energy sources, predominantly Big Wind. (Forget the fact that wind requires an enormous amount of carbon emissions in the manufacturing of gigantic wind turbine.)
But Binz’s no carbon advocacy is hypocritical.
While Binz now advocates for lowering carbon emissions, he was instrumental in shutting down Colorado’s lowest carbon emitting power source, the Fort St. Vrain nuclear plant, which eventually converted to natural gas – a technology he now calls “dead end” when it comes to carbon emissions.
As head of the Office of Consumer Council (OCC), Binz successfully argued before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that the power plant did not work correctly and that the shareholders of the company running the plant must pay for the capital costs rather than customers using the electricity. (This is when Binz cared about ratepayers)
More stringent regulations and the burden of the extra cost upon the shareholders ultimately forced the plant to close as a carbon free, nuclear power source. This “regulating to death,” as stated by previously employees of the plant ultimately came at the cost detriment of electricity customers who paid for the decommissioning and subsequent recommissioning as a carbon emitting natural gas plant.
His position on natural gas has flipped too. In 2010, as chair of the PUC Binz took a lead role in negotiating the terms of the controversial fuel switching bill HB 1365 titled “Clean Air; Clean Jobs Act.” At that time, Binz championed a mandated fuel switch from coal to natural gas. Apparently Binz thought natural gas was a clean fuel in 2010 but isn’t now. Too bad ratepayers didn’t know that in 2010. It would have saved them more than $1 billion dollars, but then Binz’s concerns for consumer costs have flipped too.
By Peter Blake
This column appeared originally on Complete Colorado Page 2.
When the runners are closing in on the finish line, move the tape farther back.
That’s the usual strategy employed by greens when it comes to establishing renewable energy standards for electricity production. It’s a marathon that never ends, and the added cost to consumers is secondary, if not irrelevant.
Colorado’s power producers are awaiting introduction of a bill that would raise the minimums yet again. But their lobbyists don’t know the details — and neither does the prospective sponsor, apparently.
There’s plenty of “radio chatter,” said Jeani Frickey, a lobbyist for Colorado’s rural electric associations, but “we don’t have anything specific yet.”
“I’ve not seen any bill drafts, or even outlines of ideas,” said Mike Beasley, an Xcel Energy lobbyist.
An aid to Rep. Su Ryden confirmed that the Aurora Democrat is going to be a sponsor of a bill, but even she hasn’t seen it. “A lot of different people” are still working on the bill.
The ever-rising renewable standards began back in 2004, when Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, an initiative that required regulated, investor-owned utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity through renewable energy by 2015.
Three years later the legislature, assuming that one popular vote gave them carte blanche to do the work themselves from then on, raised the minimum to 20 percent by 2020. At the same time it established a 10 percent mandate on REAs, co-ops, which are not under the Public Utilities Commission.
In 2010 lawmakers raised the minimum to 30 percent for regulated utilities by 2020. The REAs were left at 10 percent. Now it’s three years later, again, and history tells us that lawmakers will be back with yet higher standards.
Some predict the figure will go to 40 percent for Xcel and Black Hills Energy, and 20 percent for the REAs. Others believe that only the REAs will be raised. But they’re only guesses, and the figures could be adjusted during the legislative process anyway.
By the way, you might think that hydroelectric power would count as a renewable, since no fuel is required and it produces, as Frickey noted, “zero greenhouse gas emissions.”
But Colorado enviros refuse to recognize water power as a renewable. Perhaps they’re afraid it would lead to the damming of various rivers. But if it did count, the REAs would already be over their required 10 percent just using existing dams. Tri-State Generation & Transmission, which supplies 18 of Colorado’s 22 REAs with electricity, gets 12 percent of its power from water, said Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey. It’s generated by the Western Area Power Administration, an agency of the Energy Department.
REAs would be a natural target for the Democratic-controlled legislature. They cover 73 percent of Colorado’s land but less than 25 percent of the state’s population, said REA lobbyist Geoff Hier. Democrats predominate along the Front Range, where Xcel provides most of the power, and Republicans in the hinterlands.
One group working on the bill is Conservation Colorado, a recently formed amalgam of the state’s Conservation Voters and its Environmental Coalition.
Last September, before the merger was formalized, the leaders of the two groups wrote a letter to legislative candidates urging their support for “Colorado’s Path to a Clean Energy Future.” [Read entire letter below]
They seemed to be targeting the REAs. Noting that Xcel has a 30 percent mandate, “most rural and municipal energy providers have only made a 10 percent commitment that is below the national average,” says the letter. It went on to blame coal plants and autos for air pollution and urged a four-point program:
- “Decreasing the emissions that cause climate change” by at least 2 percent a year;
- Ensuring that “over a third” of Colorado’s electricity comes from renewable technologies;
- Requiring all utilities to offer “energy efficiency” programs that will help customers save energy.
- Encouraging the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles.
- Senate Bill 126, now in the House, would help promote the last point.
It’s hard to predict how Xcel or the REAs will react when a bill is finally introduced. In 2004, Xcel fought the first mandate. But then the greens got smart and stopped treating it as an evil corporate enemy while Xcel came to realize its job was to make money, not provide cheap power. It’s entitled to 10 percent return on investment, no matter what the cost of fuel or capital equipment.
The PUC helped by no longer requiring utilities to apply the “least cost” principle when building facilities or buying fuel. What’s more, the PUC made retail fuel prices subservient to more nebulous environmental goals.
Xcel ended up backing the 2010 bill, just as the REA’s backed the move to 10 percent renewable for them.
If renewables were economically competitive in the marketplace, there would be no need for legislation. Utilities would turn to them automatically. But so far, they’re not. Wind survived only because Congress belatedly extended its special tax credits. Solar is even less competitive.
Xcel already is allowed to charge you an extra 2 percent per month to pay for its renewable facilities and fuel.
Three years ago, when Bill Ritter was still governor, a coalition of natural gas companies, Xcel and greens worked behind closed doors for months before dropping House Bill 1365 into the hopper on March 15. It required Xcel to close down three coal-fired plants or convert them to natural gas by 2017. It was then rushed through the legislative process in a couple of weeks as more than 30 lobbyists worked the halls.
A similar rush-rush process recently worked for the gun bills. Perhaps it will be tried again when the renewable energy bill is introduced.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at email@example.com
By William Yeatman and Amy Oliver Cooke
As Coloradans we thought we might have to apologize to the rest of the country if President Barack Obama nominated former one-term Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to head the Energy Department. If the President wanted to make electricity costs skyrocket and the eco-left community happy, Ritter was his guy, but the President didn’t pick him.
Despite his dense résumé and desire to cut emissions, however, Moniz can be a polarizing figure in scientific and environmental circles. Few experts deny the value of a scientist as DOE chief, but many fans of renewable energy worry about Moniz’s gusto for natural gas and nuclear power — not to mention his financial ties to the energy industry.
‘We’re concerned that, as energy secretary, Ernest Moniz may take a politically expedient view of harmful fracking and divert resources from solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources vital to avoiding climate disaster,’ Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a recent press release. ‘We’re also concerned that Moniz would be in a position to delay research into the dangers fracking poses to our air, water and climate.’
And the Washington Post reports:
But over the past couple of weeks, many environmentalists and some prominent renewable energy experts have tried to block the nomination of Moniz because of an MIT report supporting “fracking” — as hydraulic fracturing is commonly known — and because major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell, ENI and Saudi Aramco, provided as much as $25 million each to the MIT Energy Initiative. Other research money came from a foundation bankrolled by shale gas giant Chesapeake Energy.
‘We would stress to Mr. Moniz that an ‘all of the above’ energy policy only means ‘more of the same,’ and we urge him to leave dangerous nuclear energy and toxic fracking behind while focusing on safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar,’ Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement Monday.
The Sierra Club doesn’t have much credibility because financially it was sleeping with the enemy, having taken $26 million from Chesapeake Energy to destroy the market for coal. One place they enjoyed great success was in Colorado with HB 1365, the fuel switching bill and cornerstone of Ritter’s “New Energy Economy.”
Governor Ritter coined the term New Energy Economy for his signature agenda. In practice, his New Energy Economy entails three policies: (1) a Soviet-style green energy production quota; (2) subsidies for green energy producers; and (3) a mandate for fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Renewable energy is more expensive than conventional energy, and natural gas is twice as expensive as coal in Colorado, so these policies inherently inflated the cost of electricity.
Last month, the Independence Institute published the first ever line item expensing of Ritter’s energy policies, and the results were shocking. In 2012, the New Energy Economy cost Xcel Energy (the state’s largest investor-owned utility) ratepayers $484 million, or 18 percent of retail electricity sales.
This princely sum purchased the equivalent of 402 megawatts of reliable capacity generation. By comparison, Xcel had a surplus generating capacity (beyond its reserve margin) in 2012 of 700 megawatts—almost 75 percent more than the New Energy Economy contribution. Thanks to Governor Ritter’s energy policies, Xcel ratepayers in Colorado last year paid almost half a billion dollars for energy they didn’t need.
In addition to implementing expensive energy policies, Governor Ritter also has experience picking losers in the energy industry. In May 2009, Governor Ritter hand-delivered to Secretary Chu a letter in support of a $300 million loan guarantee for Colorado-based Abound Solar, a thin-filmed solar panel manufacturer. In the letter Ritter claimed Abound would “triple production capacity within 12 months, develop a second manufacturing facility within 18 months and hire an additional 1,000 employees.”
Taxpayer money couldn’t keep Abound afloat, which never reached production capacity. After its solar panels suffered repeated failures, including catching fire, Abound declared bankruptcy in early 2012 leaving taxpayers on the hook for nearly $70 million and even more at the state and local level. A former employee explained, “our solar modules worked so long as you didn’t put them in the sun.”
Abound Solar wasn’t the only pound-foolish Stimulus spending associated with Governor Ritter. During his administration, the Colorado Energy Office’s coffers swelled with almost $33 million in stimulus subsidies for weatherization efforts. According to a recent report by the Colorado Office of State Audits, the Ritter administration failed to even maintain an annual budget for the program. As a result, the audit was unable to demonstrate whether the money had been spent in a cost effective manor. All told, the auditor found that the energy agency could not properly account for almost $127 million in spending during the Ritter administration.
Ritter told the Fort Collins Coloradoan that the scathing audit accusing the agency under his watch of shoddy management practices was not the reason the President passed over him for Energy Secretary.
The former Governor is especially proud of the job creation associated with the New Energy Economy. To be sure, throwing taxpayer money at any industry would create jobs. The problem occurs when the public money spigot runs dry. In this context, an October 22, 2012 top fold, front page headline in the Denver Post is illuminating: “New energy” loses power; A series of setbacks cost over 1,000 jobs and threatens the state’s status in the industry. To put it another way, in the two years since Ritter left office, his New Energy Economy has atrophied in lockstep with the reduction in public funding.
Ritter has taken to proselytizing for the gospel of expensive energy. He founded the Center for the New Energy Economy, the purpose of which is to, “provide policy makers, governors, planners and other decision makers with a road map that will accelerate the nationwide development of a New Energy Economy.” He even brought with him the former head of the beleaguered energy office Tom Plant to work for him as a “policy advisor.”
So far Ritter’s bad energy policy has remained largely within the Centennial State, and, for now, that’s where it will stay. With the choice of Moniz, the rest of the country can breathe a sigh of relief. For Coloradans, we’re still stuck with him.
William Yeatman is the Assistant Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a policy analyst for the Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. Amy Oliver Cooke is the Director of the Energy Policy Center for the Independence Institute
According to the most recent Form 10-K that Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest investor owned utility (IOU), filed with the Security and Exchange Commission dated December 31, 2011, electricity generation from natural gas was more than double the price of electricity generated from coal in Colorado.
A table on page 18 of the report shows that in 2011, Xcel produced 76 percent of its electricity from coal at a cost of $1.77 per MMBtu while natural gas cost $4.98 per MMBtu while providing 24 percent of Xcel’s electricity.
As more and more of Xcel’s electricity is mandated to come from natural gas thanks to HB 1365, the fuel switching bill and the cornerstone of what former Governor Bill Ritter coined the “new energy economy,” along with additional regulations and out right bans on hydraulic fracturing, Xcel ratepayers should get used to spending more and more on their electricity bills.
The disgraced former EPA regional official forced out after Senator James Inhoff (R-Oklahoma) posted a video of his enforcement philosophy for fossil fuel companies has found a home with the Sierra Club and its anti-coal campaign.
Al Armendariz will take over leadership of the group’s “Beyond Coal” campaign office for Austin, Texas, on July 15.
He’ll coordinate efforts to move the Lone Star State away from coal-fired electric generation and toward wind, solar and other low-carbon alternatives, said Beyond Coal director Bruce Nilles in an interview.
Armendariz, former administrator of EPA Region 6, resigned last spring after a video surfaced revealing his “enforcement philosophy” for oil and gas developers to be analogous to the Roman crucifixion of the “first five villagers” in a conquered territory.
Just two years ago, the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club was instrumental in getting the Colorado General Assembly to pass HB10-1365 mandatory fuel switching away from coal to natural gas. That love affair ended abruptly last month when the national headquarters announced that it no longer supported natural gas as a “bridge fuel” for electricity generation.
Senator Inhoff told EENews that Armendariz’s new position was no surprise to him, “At least at the Sierra Club, he won’t get into so much trouble for telling the truth that their agenda is to kill oil, gas and coal.”
“One hundred nine days into a 120-day session you introduced major [energy policy] legislation,” Senator Steve King (R-Grand Junction) skeptically asked of SB 178 sponsor Senator Angela Giron (D-Pueblo).
Sen. King’s skepticism is justified because SB 178 is a significant policy change that increases Colorado’s renewable energy mandate by 20 percent. Because renewable energy is not competitive with traditional fossil fuels, supporters of the mandate originally included a multiplier to make it more palatable when advancing prior legislation to increase the mandate.
Under current law, for every kilowatt-hour of electricity provided by a renewable resource it counts as one and one quarter hour toward Colorado’s 30 percent renewable mandate. In other words, Colorado’s actual mandate is 24 percent. SB 178 REMOVES the multiplier, raising the mandate significantly and, ultimately, electricity rates.
During testimony on Tuesday, April 24, in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the sordid legislative tale of SB 178 began to unfold. It has been dubbed “son of 1365,” referring to the collusion and fast tracking of Colorado’s infamous fuel-switching bill passed in 2010.
Renewable energy companies are win big with SB 178 because utilities will be forced to either “build more or buy more” renewable energy. No shock that wind and solar advocates testified in favor.
New Energy Economy advocates who still believe that wind and solar are commercially viable energy sources, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary also win because SB 178 continues to fuel their green fantasies.
Xcel Energy doesn’t show up on a search of lobbyists for and against SB 178, but a number of sources tell me that Colorado’s largest investor owned utility (IOU) has been working hard on this bill at the state capital. Why? Because Xcel has banked significant renewable energy credits (RECs), which they can sell to other utilities in order to meet the higher standard. Also, as energy rates go up, and they will under SB 178, Xcel makes more money because the Public Utility Commission guarantees Xcel’s rate of return. (Example: 10 percent of $100 is a lot more than 10 percent of $75)
The Chinese will be big winners – yes, the Chinese. The more we rely upon wind and solar as a source of energy, the more dependent we become on the Chinese who control 95 percent the world’s supply or rare earth minerals necessary to manufacture solar panels and wind turbines.
Consumers and the economy will lose big. Representing Black Hills Energy, Colorado’s second largest IOU, Wendy Moser testified against SB 178 because Black Hills estimates rates will rise 25 percent in order to pay for the increased mandate. The increase will stifle all economic activity because energy costs will needlessly take a larger percentage of consumers’ and businesses’ budgets.
Large energy consumers such as mining companies and heavy manufacturing which are energy intensive will lose big because their cost of doing business will go up and make them less competitive.
The environment is also a loser; as we have documented renewable energy is neither clean nor green. In fact, if Colorado exacerbates reliance on China, we fuel the pending ecological disaster.
Highlights from testimony on SB 178
- Supporters call eliminating the 1.25 multiplier “leveling the playing field” because it’s time renewables compete in a “free market.” Advocates repeated these catch phrases numerous times, and I assume they did so with a straight face (I only listened to testimony). If they truly believed in a free market, the discussion would be about eliminating the 30 percent renewable mandate rather than just a multiplier.
- Supporter Neal Lurie from the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association (COSEIA) had the audacity to call eliminating the multiplier good for transparency for consumers. Just a year ago, COSEIA testified against SB11-30 transparency for ratepayers, Senator Scott Renfroe’s bill that would have required IOUs such as Xcel to disclose the actual cost of electricity by fuel source on a quarterly basis. Lurie and COSEIA don’t want consumers to know the real cost of renewable energy because they know it far exceeds the misleading “2 percent rate cap.”
- Black Hills and Tri-State Generation, electricity provider to numerous local co-ops, combined represent roughly 1 million ratepayers in Colorado. Yet bill supporters never consulted either company about SB 178. These two power providers did not find out about this attempt at massive policy change until a few days before testimony. Thank you to Senator King for repeatedly bringing up the timeline.
- The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) continues the 2 percent rate cap sham that we have discredited on numerous occasions. The total cost of renewable energy is not contained within the two percent rate cap on consumers’ bills, see the paper I co-authored with William Yeatman “The Great Green Deception.” Updated figures and brief explanation of how Xcel avoids the 2 percent cap are provided below.*
- Gene Camp of the PUC initially testified that raising the mandate by 20 percent would have no impact on ratepayers’ electric bills. Following a discussion of what will happen to the two percent rate cap, Senator Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) pressed that increasing the amount of energy derived from a more expensive fuel source will increase rates. Silence befell the room for 5 or 6 seconds before Camp then responded that it’s up to legislature because he is unsure what will happen.
- Attorney General John Suthers’ office testified in favor of SB 178 because the current multiplier applies only to Colorado produced renewable power and may be unconstitutional. When Senator Lundberg suggested that Colorado extend the multiplier to all renewable power producers regardless of location, the AG office agreed that likely would satisfy the constitutional issue.
- Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) wondered why no one caught the constitutional conflict before.
- Sen. Lundberg did offer an amendment to extend the multiplier to all states and save consumers money, but it was defeated.
Like HB 1365, SB 178 makes a mockery of the legislative process. This bill smells dirty. Introduced at the last moment and key stakeholders were not even invited to participate. It’s a disaster for Colorado ratepayers. It’s not about consumers or markets or leveling the playing field, SB 178 is about enriching the eco-left and Xcel Energy. That’s no shock because whatever Xcel wants, Xcel gets.
*The following comes from an op-ed I co-authored with energy policy center colleague Michael Sandoval and originally published in January. It provides a brief summary of how the PUC allows Xcel to avoid the two percent rate cap.
It is true Xcel stayed within the two percent rate cap line item labeled the Renewable Electric Standard Adjustment (RESA) on customers’ electric bills. But it is not true that the RESA represents the real, total cost of renewable energy to Xcel ratepayers, and Bakers knows it.
Two years ago in the “Great Green Deception,” the Independence Institute exposed how the PUC allows Xcel to hide the real cost of renewable energy by utilizing two line items on a ratepayer’s bill. Customers pay two percent of their bill through RESA, but the balance of the total cost of renewable energy is captured through another fund – the Electric Commodity Adjustment (ECA) – that is likely the second largest line item cost.
The practice continues today as Xcel’s Robin Kittel explained in direct testimony to the PUC regarding its 2012 Renewable Energy Standard Compliance Plan. According to Kittel, Xcel recovers the cost of renewable energy “through a combination of the RESA and ECA.”
The ECA is NOT subject to the legislatively mandated two percent rate cap. The Public Utility Commission staff’s William Dalton acknowledged the PUC’s role in confusing the public about the rate cap in his September 2009 testimony before the commission:
“This could be a point of confusion to ratepayers and other interested parties…The costs above the retail rate impact limit are recovered through other Commission approved cost recovery mechanisms, primarily the ECA. [Emphasis ours] Once the renewable energy resource cost recovery is allocated to the ECA, cost recovery of these resources is no longer subject to retail rate impact criteria or cost cap.”
According to Xcel’s 2012 Renewable Energy Compliance Plan, ECA costs were $35,280,340 in 2011, but will explode by more than 1000 percent to $354,819,209 in 2021 (thanks also to Colorado’s $20 per ton “phantom carbon tax”). Yet Xcel and Baker [PUC Commissioner Matt Baker] can claim to be within the two percent rate cap for the RESA.
It is easy to be angry with Xcel for all the cost shifting shenanigans, but the blame should be placed on lawmakers and PUC commissioners.
Colorado already has the most expensive electric rates of all neighboring states and the second highest in the Rocky Mountain West, with projections to go even higher in the near future. Now, a bill just introduced into the state senate threatens to make Colorado’s energy rates even more expensive. The following is a column from the Colorado Consumer Coalition about the dangers of SB 178. Senator Kevin Lundberg offered an amendment that would have achieved the bill’s supposed primary purpose and saved consumers money, but it was voted down as the column details.
Colorado consumers—from Denver down to Pueblo and all across the state—could wind up paying even more for their electricity following a troubling development at the legislature this week. An obscure bill just introduced on Tuesday with almost no warning, only days before the end of the 2012 session, would pull the rug out from under the state’s public utilities and turn their long-term energy planning inside-out. And ratepayers would be left holding the bag.
Senate Bill 178 would scrap a key feature of Colorado’s renewable-energy mandate, on which utilities have based their plans and projections for years to come; the change would force them to get even more of their electricity from pricey renewables like wind and solar power than the law now requires. Specifically, the bill would take away a break that utilities have been able to pass on to consumers as they strive to meet costly state mandates to derive 30 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030.
The break to ratepayers was enacted in 2004 along with the mandates because those who had been advocating for the shift to a greater reliance on alternative fuels also realized such a seismic change doesn’t come cheaply. And it’s neither fair nor even possible to make hard-pressed home- and business owners bear the whole burden. So, the policy’s authors not only placed a 2-percent cap on year-to-year rate increases due to the increased cost of renewables, but they also wrote the law to give extra credit to utilities for switching to alternative energy sources. That gave the utilities greater flexibility in meeting the statutory standards for renewables so consumers wouldn’t have to dig so deeply into their pockets.
Now, SB 178 aims to monkey-wrench that delicate balance. By revoking the extra credit for switching to renewable energy after 2015, the bill effectively would require the public to rely on an even higher percentage of renewable energy sources than most of the state’s utilities had anticipated. The result would be to wreak havoc with the balance sheets and strategic plans of the utilities, for-profit and nonprofit alike. They’d have to scramble to acquire more renewable sources for power and, inevitably, pass the cost on to the public through higher power bills.
Not surprisingly, when the bill was unveiled Wednesday at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, lawmakers got an earful from representatives of some of those utilities as well as other stakeholders—many of whom had only heard of the legislation a few days earlier and, in some cases, only hours prior to the hearing. And they told lawmakers point-blank what would happen if the bill were enacted.
“This bill will result in increased costs to… members and their customers,” said Thomas Dougherty, representing Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a wholesale electric power supplier owned by 44 electric cooperatives and serving 900,000 Coloradans.
Ratepayers of Black Hills Energy, which serves the Pueblo region, would be dealt a major blow by the legislation, the company’s Wenday Moser told lawmakers Wednesday.
“We are very concerned about Senate Bill 178 because we are concerned about our ability to meet the renewable energy standard,” Moser said. “As of now, Black Hills is marginally meeting the standard…We are struggling to meet that standard.”
Dougherty had noted in his testimony that even though the law caps renewable-energy cost increases at 2 percent a year on power bills, that increase in an of itself still can pack a punch for consumers. And Moser made clear that the cap really won’t spare consumers at all over the long run.
She pointed out that companies such as hers simply will be forced to assess that extra 2 percent “for many more years” until recovering the added costs of the additional renewables. After all, the utilities are legally bound to attain the renewable-energy standard; it’ll just take them longer to recover those costs from consumers.
Why this bill at this time—out of the blue like this? What possibly could have motivated some lawmakers to propose such a reckless policy for so little gain—at a time when Colorado already is well on its way toward greater reliance on renewable energy?
A representative of Attorney General John Suthers told the committee at Wednesday’s hearing that his office wasn’t behind the bill but had endorsed it because of concerns about a provision in the current law allowing the extra renewable-energy credits for purchases of Colorado energy but not for renewables originating outside the state. That, the AG’s rep said, set up Colorado for a constitutional challenge in court.
Fine, responded a skeptical Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud—then why not simply extend the same extra credit to any acquisition of renewable energy from outside Colorado as well? Lundberg was told the attorney general would in fact be fine with that alternative, so Lundberg proposed it as an amendment to the bill. Unfortunately, it was voted down.
Lundberg and fellow Judiciary Committee Sens. Steve King, of Grand Junction, and Ellen Roberts, of Durango, deserve credit for asking tough and probing questions about the bill during the hearing. All three laudably voted against the measure, but they were outgunned by the majority, and the measure now moves to the Senate floor for further action.
Pending what happens next, let’s give credit to Black Hills Energy, too, for telling lawmakers what they really needed to hear—whether they wanted to or not—about a costly, destructive bill with no discernible value to Colorado Consumers.
My take: this bill isn’t about leveling the playing field for in-state versus out-of-state renewable energy producers but rather about forcing Colorado energy consumers to rely more heavily upon unreliable, expensive wind and solar energy. To make matters worse, this will be a windfall for Xcel Energy because the more expensive electricity is, the more Xcel makes. If this bill gets fast-tracked through the legislature like HB 1365, the infamous fuel-switching bill, consumers will have more proof that Xcel “owns” the state legislature.
Vestas Wind Systems A/S and 1,700 Colorado employees could see a takeover bid by one of the two largest Chinese wind manufacturers:
Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, citing unnamed sources, reports that Sinovel Wind Group and Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology, the No. 1 and 2 Chinese wind-turbine makers respectively, have discussed takeover bids with bankers.
Reuters, in a report Monday, quoted an analyst as saying that both companies are state-backed and have adequate financial capacity to acquire Vestas.
“Vestas would be a strong acquisition target for either Sinovel or Goldwind,” Keith Li, analyst at CIMB research, told Reuters.
Aarhus, Denmark-based Vestas (DK: VWS) — facing stiff competition from China and slackening demand in debt-plagued Europe — has seen its share value sink more than 50 percent since October. It posted a bigger-than-expected 2011 loss of $218.4 million.
Vestas stock soared on the news of the possible Chinese acquisition.
Other analysts, citing the difficulty of a purchase of the company by either of its two Chinese competitors, point to a potential partnership instead.
It’s unclear what effect the news will have on Vestas’ push for an extension of the wind production tax credits or the support for such a push in Congress, especially from Colorado’s delegation, should the company become wholly or partly owned by Chinese companies and possibly the Chinese government.