April 7 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Hickenlooper calls CDPHE refocusing away from CPP a ’shell game’, unloads on EPA ozone rule; ‘carbon tax’ defeated in Carbondale
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legal, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
Less than two weeks after Gov. John Hickenlooper told Colorado Public Radio “we don’t care what the Supreme Court says about the Clean Power Plan”, calling for continued planning for the Environmental Protection Agency’s embattled rule currently under a stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Democrat initially appeared to be walking back his initial disregard for the country’s highest judicial body:
Gov. John Hickenlooper said he’s willing to temporarily halt state work on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan if that would defuse an effort to strip funding from the agency developing the plan.
“I’m happy to have them stop working on it if that’s a problem, if that becomes a partisan issue,” Hickenlooper told a CPR reporter after a lunch hosted by the American Petroleum Institute.
But the easing on Hickenlooper’s view of the work being done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment–dismissive of any SCOTUS intervention via a stay–was itself walked back, as he at first acknowledged that the state could work on its already existing regulatory mandates to achieve similar goals to the Clean Power Plan, but said that any such maneuver would be nothing more than a “shell game”:
“We’re doing the same work anyway,” said Hickenlooper. “I don’t think it would hurt our efforts if we were to reallocate some of that time in other directions. I mean, in the end, we’re going to get to the same place.”
Hickenlooper said state policy and laws, including the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act passed in 2010, already require Colorado to reduce carbon emissions from coal fired power plants.
“Our goals were very aggressive goals, and they are not the same, but they are very similar to what the Clean Power Plan wants,” he said at the gathering.
The governor clarified his comments Wednesday, dismissing the idea that suspending work on the Clean Power Plan would have much real world impact on the state’s clean air efforts.
“I look at the whole thing as ridiculous, to be perfectly blunt,” Hickenlooper told reporters at a regular press gathering. “It’s like a shell game of who’s doing which work. We’re working toward clean air, that’s what the state’s doing, that’s what people want us to do. We can get into … semantical battles over this thing, but it’s pretty straightforward.”
When it comes to Hickenlooper’s pronouncements on any number of issues, including this one, it’s usually never “pretty straightforward.”
Hickenlooper, just days ago, attempted to cast a non-partisan tenor to the debate over the Clean Power Plan:
Gov. John Hickenlooper also defended the new air quality rules at an event hosted by the Colorado Petroleum Institute.
“Clean air is too important to Colorado to become a partisan issue,” he said. “I am convinced as much as I ever have been that this is in the self-interest of the state.”
Jack Gerard, the head of the American Petroleum Institute, disagreed with Hickenlooper’s assessment.
“We look at the Clean Power Plan as it’s unnecessary to regulate as trying to pick favorite energy forums,” Gerard said.
Hickenlooper’s soft spot for the Clean Power Plan did not hold him back from being critical of the EPA’s ozone rule, which he said risked the “possibility that there will be penalties eventually that will come from lack of compliance.” He also blasted a Democrat bill that would allow for more lawsuits over damage caused by earthquakes that allege a connection to oil and gas development, as well as a ballot measure that would create a 2500 foot setback, saying that it would deprive mineral rights owners of their property–a taking that could cost billions.
Energy in Depth has more on Hickenlooper’s statement on the ballot initiative that would create 2500 foot setbacks:
Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, is speaking out against an initiative backed by ‘ban-fracking’ activists to dramatically increase oil and gas setback distances in the state. The comments came at an event yesterday sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and Colorado Petroleum Council (CPC) featuring the governor and API President and CEO Jack Gerard.
When asked about the ballot initiative pushed by activists with strong ties to national ban fracking organizations, that would increase oil and gas setback distances to 2500 feet, Hickenlooper strongly denounced the effort. As reported by CBS Denver:
“That would be considered a taking, and I think the state would probably be judged responsible, and I think the cost could be in the many billions of dollars. I think that’s a risk that most Coloradans — if it was laid out for them in a sense they could clearly understand — would not support it.”
Hickenlooper’s assertion that the initiative could cost the state billions is backed up by a recent economic assessment from the Business Research Division at University of Colorado Leeds School of Business. Economists found that a 2,000 foot setback distance could cost the state up to $11 billion in lost GDP a year and 62,000 jobs. The 2,000 foot setback economists looked at is more modest than the 2,500 foot distance that activists are attempting to put before state voters this year.
Those mineral rights are worth billions of dollars to Coloradans and fill the coffers of counties and other entities annually to the tune of millions in property and severance taxes.
A thinly disguised attempt to ban fracking under the ruse of “local control” failed in the Colorado House on Monday:
Activist groups have not been shy about the fact that they see “local control” as a de facto ban on fracking. On a recent call with supporters, Tricia Olson of Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED), the group behind a series of ballot initiatives targeting energy development, even told the group that their “local control” measure is basically a “full-fledged” fracking ban:
“This version however has one significant difference, what we would call a floor, not a ceiling language. To lift its points, it authorizes local governments to pass regulations — prohibit, limit or impose moratoriums on oil and gas development. Of course the word prohibit means ban. This allows for a broad range of local government options within their jurisdictions from local actions to a full-fledged ban.” (23:14-23:44)
EID detailed the “local control” proponents’ misinformation campaign to push the measure. Two Democrats joined with Republicans to kill the bill on the floor of the Colorado House.
And former Gov. Bill Ritter–you know–of the “New Energy Economy” and a paragon of all things green (dubbed the “Greenest Governor”), rejected a national ban on fracking:
“If you passed a national ban, this industry would go away and it would be harder for us to get to our place of transition on clean energy and climate.”
“I believe that with a good set of regulations, with good enforcement, with good compliance on the part of the industry, it [fracking for natural gas] can be a part of a clean energy future,” Ritter said.
Ritter and Hickenlooper, both Democrats, face opposition from their far-left counterparts when it comes to these types of calls for bans on responsible oil and gas development:
“We won’t transform the energy supplies of our nation overnight; there’s been rapid growth in solar and wind, but we’re a long way from saying we can walk away from hydrocarbons and not do significant damage to our economy,” Hickenlooper said.
“The number of people in Colorado who want to ban hydrocarbons is probably a small minority,” he said.
Gerard said the oil and gas sector will continue to play a significant role going forward, even through energy efficiency efforts focused on the automotive sector.
“When you look to make cars more energy efficient, you make them lighter with plastics brought to you by petroleum, you make the windows more efficient [with films] brought to you by petroleum, the gadgets you play with in your hand every day also come from petroleum,” he said.
As we can see, it’s not just about fracking, or burning oil and gas for electricity, as API’s president pointed out.
Hickenlooper continues to express deep concern about the EPA’s ozone rule, reducing the target for acceptable ground level ozone from 75 ppb to 70 ppb, saying a suspension of the rule “would be a great idea”:
Transcript of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s comments on the Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone rule delivered to the Colorado Petroleum Council and the American Petroleum Institute on March 31, 2016 via the Center for Regulatory Solutions:
So I think it would be a great idea if they suspended the standard. I mean, just with the background [ozone], if you’re not going to be able to conform to a standard like this, you are leaving the risk or the possibility that there will be penalties of one sort or another that come from your lack of compliance. Obviously, no different than any business, states want to have as much predictability as possible, and I think if they suspend the standards, it’s not going to slow us down from continuing to try and make our air cleaner. …
You know, we’re a mile high. Air quality issues affect us more directly than they do at lower elevations. So we’re going to keep pushing it, we’re not going to back off, we’re going to continue to improve the air quality in the state every year if I have anything to say about it, but at the same time, those standards, you know, to be punitive when you’re working as hard as you can … to get cleaner air as rapidly as you can, it seems like it’s not the most constructive stance.
A bi-partisan chorus of opposition to the ozone rule has emerged, and Independence Institute energy policy analyst Simon Lomax notes that the rhetoric surrounding the ozone rule, and in particular, its potential impact on public health, is filled with fearmongering from the “bad-air chorus.”
Lomax testified before CDPHE last month on the ozone rule:
The nature of the problem is clear. The EPA’s new ozone standard goes too far. It will throw large areas of the state into long-term violation of federal law. Violation will impose new restrictions on economic growth and jeopardize badly needed investments in transportation infrastructure.
And because the stringent new standard approaches background ozone levels, which state regulators are powerless to control, there will be little, if any, environmental benefit in return. For months, stakeholders from across government, across the political spectrum and across the economy have stated and restated the problem. But admiring the complexity of the problem won’t solve it.
Notably, the ozone rule would attack the “bridge” fuel, namely natural gas, that the earlier versions of the Clean Power Plan envisaged would get the nation from a fossil fuel fleet to one primarily composed of renewables. Between the attempts to ban fracking, the leap made by the final Clean Power Plan that pushes almost exclusively for renewables, and the ozone rule’s affect on oil and gas development (emissions are a key component to create ground level ozone), the stage has been set for an onslaught of anti-oil and gas regulation that would devastate Colorado’s economy.
Colorado faces geographical and topographical challenges with any ground-level ozone measurements due to elevated background ozone levels, as Hickenlooper pointed out. Anthropogenic emissions in other states and Mexico and as far away as Asia (China), wildfires, atmospheric intrusions, and our elevation combine to bring levels of background ozone to the state that can’t simply be regulated away.
From the “excellent news” category–carbon tax gets shot down in Carbondale, 61 to 39 percent:
For the so called “carbon tax,” 1,022 voters cast ballots against, while only 637 Carbondale residents voted in favor.
And with more than $3,000 in contributions, the committee supporting the carbon tax raised and spent more money than any single candidate for the board of trustees.
The climate action tax proposed to increase residents’ gas and electric bills in an attempt to promote clean energy projects and reduce energy usage in keeping with the town’s 2020 energy goals.
The climate tax would have been applied uniformly across town, with one set of rates for residents and another for business owners.
Supporters of the carbon tax had estimated that the average household’s utility bills would go up $5 to $7, and the average business would see a $10 to $30 increase.
This carbon/climate action tax would have just added more misery to Colorado’s already skyrocketing electricity rates.
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.
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
Could this happen in Colorado? Maybe…
A Wall Street Journal article reports what some in Colorado’s energy industry know, too much reliance on wind and solar can make an electric grid unstable and lead to power outages.
California regulators and energy companies met last week out of fear that the state’s electric grid is so unstable due to heavy dependence on wind and solar that rolling blackouts will begin as early as 2015. The WSJ reports:
Regulators and energy companies met Tuesday, hoping to hash out a solution to the peculiar stresses placed on the state’s network by sharp increases in wind and solar energy. Power production from renewable sources fluctuates wildly, depending on wind speeds and weather.
California has encouraged growth in solar and wind power to help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. At the same time, the state is running low on conventional plants, such as those fueled by natural gas, that can adjust their output to keep the electric system stable. The amount of electricity being put on the grid must precisely match the amount being consumed or voltages sag, which could result in rolling blackouts.
At Tuesday’s meeting, experts cautioned that the state could begin seeing problems with reliability as soon as 2015.
California, which has a 33 percent renewable mandate, has plenty of power but…
Even though California has a lot of plants, it doesn’t have the right mix: Many of the solar and wind sources added in recent years have actually made the system more fragile, because they provide power intermittently.
This story should serve as a warning to all, such as Rep. Max Tyler (D-Lakewood) and former Governor Bill Ritter, who think that government mandating electricity generated from wind and solar is as simple as passing legislation while ignoring science and technology.
In a March 2010 press release Tyler bragged about his bill increasing Colorado’s renewable mandate to 30 percent:
The sun will always shine for free, the winds will always blow for free, and our energy production will be cleaner. Renewable energy, green jobs, and a cleaner future — what’s not to like?
What’s not to like? How about an unstable grid that leads to blackouts. Get your generators now.
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.
Public Utilities Commissioner Matt Baker is leaving the PUC to join the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a left-leaning non-profit, as “an officer in its Environment Program” foundation officials announced yesterday. Former Governor Bill Ritter appointed the environmental activist Baker in 2008, and his term had expired without current Governor John Hickenlooper acting to reappoint Baker to another term.
Baker was instrumental in steering the state’s “new energy economy” as both an activist and a PUC commissioner. In January the Energy Policy Center raised questions about Baker’s ability to serve as an independent regulator:
Conventional wisdom in energy policy circles says that Governor John Hickenlooper will re-appoint current Public Utilities Commissioner Matt Baker to another four-year term on the PUC. His State Senate confirmation will be a mere formality, but it shouldn’t be.
Serious questions linger about his lack of honesty regarding energy costs and his ability to be an independent regulator.
Rather than regulate Colorado’s investor-owned utilities, the environmental activist-turned-regulator Baker is more interested in advancing his green energy agenda to the detriment of Colorado ratepayers. He and former PUC Chairman Ron Binz (whose own re-appointment was derailed with an ethics violation after which he withdrew his name for consideration) were instrumental in negotiating the language of HB 1365, a senseless fuel-switching bill and the “crown jewel” of Bill Ritter’s New Energy Economy that will cost ratepayers more than $1 billion.
This is blow to the environmental left and Xcel Energy because Baker provided them a seemingly credible voice to perpetuate the myth that Colorado’s 30 percent renewable energy mandate costs electricity ratepayers a mere two percent on their Xcel Energy bills. As we have demonstrated before and reiterated in January this is simply untrue, and Baker and Xcel both know it.
Baker’s love affair with renewable energy prevents him from being objective about Colorado energy policy and thus not honest with the people he is charged with serving – eroding consumer rights and driving up energy costs with regulatory sleight of hand.
In a recent op-ed in RenewablesBiz.com, Baker gushes over the advancement of his green agenda. He repeats one the biggest renewable falsehoods green activists have perpetuated on Colorado ratepayers: Colorado’s largest utility Xcel Energy can acquire 30 percent of its power from expensive renewable sources while keeping a cap on electric rates.
Most ratepayers believe that means that the renewable energy mandate – energy from sources such as wind and solar – will only cost them an additional two percent on their electric bill. “While Colorado’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, has exceeded its goals, it has stayed within the 2 percent cap set by the legislature,” says Baker.
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.
We were also the first to expose that Baker and fellow commissioner Ron Binz spent a lot of time traveling, which led to ethics complaints being filed against both men. Binz left the PUC rather than seek a second term. In December the ethics commission found that Binz violated the state constitution by accepting a trip paid for by a company he was supposed to regulate. The same commission recently decided there was not “sufficient evidence” to prove that Baker’s trip to Seville, Spain, paid for a spanish government owned company, violated Colorado’s ethics law.
What remains to be seen is who Governor Hickenlooper will appoint to replace Baker. If the Governor’s first appointee, Chairman Josh Epel, is any indication of how he envisions the role of the PUC, ratepayers can expect more balanced treatment in the future.
In a surprising move to anyone who has watched the cozy relationship develop between Xcel Energy and the Public Utilities Commission, yesterday the PUC denied Xcel’s $142 million interim rate request.
Colorado News Agency columnist Peter Blake (then with Face the State) initially exposed how the PUC, Xcel, and Governor Ritter’s administration colluded on the cost recovery language of HB 1365, the infamous fuel switching bill, which allows for Xcel to ask for an interim rate increase without a public hearing. Emails from then PUC Chairman Ron Binz shows just how deeply involved the PUC was with Xcel, the very company the PUC is suppose to regulate:
- March 8, 2010: “We will agree to using the extraordinary cost recovery in proportion to pressure that the approved plan puts on the company’s financial health.”
- March 9, 2010: “The Commission and Xcel have agreed on language for cost recovery.”
- March 11, 2010: “I was working with Karen Hyde up until 9:00 last evening to hammer out the final language in a couple of areas.”
Karen Hyde is Xcel’s vice president for rates and regulatory affairs for Colorado. After yesterday’s decision, she told the Denver Post, “we are very disappointed. We outlined what the negative impact would be as of Jan. 1. We are sorry the commission didn’t recognize the adverse impact of the delay.”
Based on the emails above, Xcel is probably more than “disappointed.” It’s a little like being kicked in the stomach by your new best friend. But since the heady days of the HB 1365 love fest, Ron Binz has left the commission under the cloud of an ethics investigation, which found him guilty of violating the constitution for accepting a privately paid trip without legitimate state purpose from an industry that he was charged with regulating and actually benefitted from HB 1365.
Yesterday’s decision doesn’t mean ratepayers are off the hook. It just means a reprieve until full public hearings are conducted. If the PUC eventually grants the full rate increase, more than a third of which is due to Xcel’s poor management, then we’ll know the PUC and Xcel still are best friends.
I may have underestimated the outrage over two recent Xcel Energy rate increase requests.
The first, an attempt to recover the final $16.5 million in cost for Boulder’s Smart Grid City program. Ratepayers are not thrilled about paying for a Boulder project with massive cost overruns.
Check out these comments:
Investor-owned utilities will do whatever they can to pass costs along to the ratepayer, no matter whether those costs are the result of bad decisions, cost overruns or faulty execution. And public utility commissions merely aid and abet this abuse of customers of regulated monopolies by rubber stamping this outrage.
A strong statement, perhaps? I wouldn’t rush to reject it. For one thing, it isn’t mine. It is the precise upshot of statements by dozens and dozens of ratepayers in Colorado in general and Boulder in particular over Xcel Energy’s attempt to recoup another $16.6 million on its SmartGridCity outlays, after succeeding in recovering $27.9 million earlier this year.
Email comments to the Public Utilities Commissions (thanks to Phil for providing the link) share that sentiment:
Mr. William Newell
As I recall the residents of Boulder wanted the smart grid. There was discussion about who would pay for this in 08. Now Excel wants all of the state consumers to pay for Boulders [sic] desire. Boulder Excel [sic] customers alone should pay for the cost of the smart grid. Our rates have already increased much higher than the inflation rate due to government regulations.
Gladys Rey Mendez
Subject: Cash Cow=Customer
When will utilities, both private and public, and their respective regulators, take responsibility for the cost over-runs of projects undertaken…Now the utility want to rate-base the balance of the cost of an experiment and collect from customers who have no association with the experiment. At the end of the day customer costs do not go down. Any real energy saving or efficiencies which dilute revenues and returns, the utilities are right back before regulators proposing rate increases….
Ms. Mendez is onto something. If ratepayers become conscientious energy consumers and use less electricity, then why does the utility come before the PUC looking for another rate increase?
Take Xcel Energy’s requested $142 million rate increase. Nearly 37 percent of that rate increase, $53 million, is to pay for excess capacity that Xcel no longer sells wholesale to Black Hills Energy, resulting in increased costs for both utilities that they pass along to ratepayers. The Denver Post’s Mark Jaffe explains:
In 2004, Xcel, with 1.3 million Colorado customers, told Black Hills it would not extend the contract and would use the 300 megawatts of generation for its own service area.
Black Hills, which serves 93,300 electric customers in southeastern Colorado, built two gas-fired power plants in Pueblo to fill the gap and got a $23 million rate hike — which takes effect Jan. 1 — from the PUC to recoup the costs.
But it turns out Xcel has excess generating capacity and doesn’t need the 300 megawatts at this time.
As part of its $142 million rate request, Xcel is asking for $53 million to cover the carrying costs of the excess capacity.
Jaffe also quotes Xcel’s Karen Hyde who blames the recession for “damped demand.” But I suspect that some of Xcel’s own policies also “damped demand.”
How about tiered rates? How about Xcel Energy’s own conservation program Responsible By Nature, which enjoys a massive marketing campaign, that encourages decreased electric usage and provides information about rebates for energy saving appliances (for which ratepayers also pay)?
Isn’t less energy usage exactly what everyone — the PUC, Xcel Energy, the environmentalists — wanted? Now they get it, and ratepayers are punished.
Customers, including businesses and consumer advocacy groups, are lining up in opposition to the latest rate increase. The money quote comes from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which also submitted comments against Xcel’s rate increase.
An affidavit from Steve Chriss, the Senior Manager of Energy Regulatory Analysis for the Bentonville, Arkansas based corporation questioned why the PUC would grant a $100 million plus rate increase without thorough public vetting process.
Chriss also addresses the gigantic electric elephant in the living room. Why is Xcel “guaranteed” a 10.5 percent rate of return:
6. PSCo claims that the interim rate relief is necessary because in 2010 that Company earned “only” a 10.23 percent return on equity during 2010, which is below their current authorized return on equity of 10.5 percent.
7. To the extent that PSCo claims that its financial circumstances are exigent the Commission should consider that according to the Edison Electric Institute, the average return on equity awarded in 2010 by utility regulatory commission was 10.29 and for the first three quarters of 2011, the average return on equity awarded was 10.24….
8. Additionally, the Commission should consider that ratemaking principles do not guarantee the Company’s approved rate of return. Instead, rates are set in such a way that the Company has the opportunity, but not a guarantee, to earn their approved rate of return.
Current recovery shall be allowed on construction work in progress at the utility’s weighted average cost of capital, including its most recently authorized rate of return on equity, for expenditures on projects associated with the plan during the construction, startup, and preservice implementation phases of the projects.
As William Yeatman and I pointed out in our paper exposing the collusion between Xcel, the PUC, and former Governor Bill Ritter’s office, the current rate of return is 10.5 percent. Anything to do with implementing it (and that’s pretty much everything) is subject to the same rate of return.
The PUC may give lip service to caring about ratepayers, but the commissioners, Gov. Ritter, and a majority of state legislators, made a deal with the devil. As we wrote in October 2010:
As mentioned earlier, the Ritter administration led negotiations for the fuel- switching bill, but the PUC was also a willing participant in brokering a deal to assure Xcel’s cooperation. Peter Blake, writer for the popular Colorado politics blog Face the State, exposed the collusion:
Binz was trading flurries of e-mails on the pending bill with Ritter aide Kelly Nordini, natural gas lawyer Russell Rowe, and Xcel executives Karen Hyde, Roy Palmer and Paula Connelly. Xcel, seeking immediate and complete cost recovery for their capital costs, wanted to be sure the PUC would support that.
Even more damaging revelations come from Binz’s emails from earlier this year:
- March 8: “We will agree to using the extraordinary cost recovery in proportion to pressure that the approved plan puts on the company’s financial health.”
- March 9: “The Commission and Xcel have agreed on language for cost recovery.”
- March 11: “I was working with Karen Hyde up until 9:00 last evening to hammer out the final language in a couple of areas.”
Blake noted the bill “was introduced four days later and rushed through the legislature in a couple of weeks.” Denver Post columnist Vincent Carroll makes the same case for collusion: “As early as last December ,” two PUC Commissioners Baker and Binz, “had talked with natural gas interests about possible legislation and have been touting it since.”
Xcel likely will get what it wants on the Smart Grid project because it already settled with the PUC on cost back in 2009. As for the rate increase, the PUC and the state legislators who have enabled Xcel walk a fine line. Xcel likely will get most of what it wants because it has lobbyists and ratepayers don’t.
While I’m grateful that there is some outrage over these latest rate increases, I can’t help but wonder why now when HB 1365 will cost ratepayers more than a $1 billion, the State Implementation Plan another $100 million, and this year renewable energy mandates add another $100 million plus.
The New Energy Economy is a very expensive economy. It’s about time ratepayers realized it.
Ho hum, Xcel Energy wants another $142 million rate increase, and it wants to recover another $16.5 million for its Boulder smart grid project. And in other news, dog bites man. If the Public Utilities Commission denied the rate increases, that would be a news story.
This is all part of Colorado’s New Energy Economy. Rates continue to go up, but isn’t that a reasonable price to pay to feel good about our windmills and solar panels? Or is it?
When we write about the consequences of the policies that make up Colorado’s New Energy Economy, we discuss them on a macro level. Policies such as renewable energy mandates, fuel switching, carbon taxes, tiered rates, and the state implementation plan will cost Xcel Energy ratepayers more than $1 billion in the years to come. Reports claim that average increases have been roughly 20 percent over the last few years and another 20 percent is predicted for future years.
But what do these policies mean specifically to Colorado’s working families? Let’s take mine for instance…
Pre-New Energy Economy:
To bring the cost of Colorado’s energy policy to the kitchen table, I went digging through my old files and found a pre-New Energy Economy electric bill. A 5,000 square foot home provided enough room for my family of five and a home office. I could work from home and take care of kids. With all the activity, my November 2004 Xcel Energy bill shows that we used 2,848 kilowatt hours for a total cost of $217.59, or 7.6 cents per kilowatt hour.
Post-New Energy Economy:
In July 2011, living in a different 5,000 square foot home but still with five people and a home office, we used 2,701 kilowatt hours of electricity at a total cost of $389.15, or 14.4 cents per kilowatt hour. That is an 89.5 percent increase in just seven years thanks, in part, to New Energy Economy policies such as renewable energy mandates, carbon taxes, fuel switching, and tiered rates (especially tiered rates).
Had electric rates simply kept up with the rate of inflation, my $217.59 bill in 2004 would have cost $260.59 in 2011, a mere 19.8 percent increase.
While it’s easy to get angry at Xcel Energy for profiteering off ratepayers through its state-sanctioned monopoly, but that’s like getting mad at a rattle snake for doing what comes naturally — biting you. The people to blame are elected officials and Public Utilities Commissioners who are supposed to be watch dogs for ratepayers but instead indulge special interests and their own green agenda regardless of cost to ratepayers.
Bad news for residents of the European Union and possibly Colorado. EU consumers and businesses face more than twenty years of rising electric costs as the region tries to meet its renewable energy goals according to a leaked report.
The the working title of the draft report “Energy Roadmap to 2050″ examines how the EU will meet its goal of 80 percent reduction of 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It’s due to be released by the end of the year.
According to a recent Financial Times article, the 112-page report examined various scenarios under which the EU could move away from carbon-based electrical generation and toward wind power and other renewable energy sources. Over the next several decades reliance on wind could go from just 5 percent to 49 percent of the EU’s energy portfolio.
As the number of wind farms increases so do energy prices. Under one scenario energy prices may increase 100 percent by 2050.
This report is bad news for Colorado because in 2008 then Governor Bill Ritter issued an executive order to reduce Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions at least 20 percent 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
Earlier this year, we exposed that Ritter’s New Energy Economy will cost Xcel Energy ratepayers $212.3 million (8 percent of their Xcel bill) in 2011 for just four pieces of legislation.