Baker out at PUC

March 31, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, New Energy Economy 

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.

Questions about Baker’s ability to serve on the PUC

January 25, 2012 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, HB 1365, New Energy Economy 

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.

After a stint at Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG), Baker subsequently helmed the advocacy group Environment Colorado from 2003 until his elevation by Ritter to the PUC in 2008. During his tenure he led the campaign for 2004’s Amendment 37 requiring utilities to implement renewable energy standards. Ritter lauded the “architect” of the – now – 30 percent renewable energy standard as a “champion of Colorado’s environment and consumer rights.”

But 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.

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 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. At best Baker is being disingenuous with Colorado ratepayers. At worst, he is flat out lying about the real costs of renewable energy in order to advance his own personal agenda.

Matt Baker’s re-appointment and confirmation should not be a rubber stamp. Colorado ratepayers deserve better.

Amy Oliver Cooke and Michael Sandoval co-authored this post.

Update: ethics complaints for travelin’ PUC

January 15, 2011 by Amy · 1 Comment
Filed under: Archive 

You read it here first. PUC commissioners Ron Binz (chairman) and Matt Baker have made some ethically questionable trips during their tenure on the PUC:

At least one trip appears particularly problematic. BENTEK Energy, an Evergreen-based energy company, paid nearly $1000 in travel expenses for Binz to attend and participate in the “Benposium” in Houston on June 9, 2010.

And:

Commissioner Baker’s travel isn’t without problems either.  Baker traveled to Seville, Spain last month with a “delegation of business representatives” to discuss Colorado’s utility regulatory climate and “possible incentives for economic development.” Extenda, a public company funded by the Spanish government, paid for the $2,800 trip.

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PUC Chair spends lots of time out of the office

December 8, 2010 by Amy · 4 Comments
Filed under: Archive, HB 1365 

Just about the time that Xcel Energy customers have recovered from the sticker shock of this summer’s air conditioner tax, ratepayers await another decision from the Public Utilities Commission on how much more their bills will increase – this time due to HB 1365, the controversial fuel-switching bill.

Our paper “Colorado’s Clean Air Clean Jobs Act Will Accomplish Neither,” details how Governor Bill Ritter, the PUC and Xcel colluded to draft and pass HB 1365, which is now the subject of PUC hearings.

Despite the obvious conflict of interest, PUC Chairman Ron Binz and Commissioner Matt Baker refused a Colorado Mining Association request to recuse themselves from PUC decisions on Xcel’s plan to comply with the legislation.

Now we learn that Chairman Binz has spent more than 200 days traveling in a little less than four years on the Public Utilities Commission – nearly a year’s worth of working time out of the office. A review of public travel documents reveals that the well-traveled commissioner has enjoyed exotic locations such as Athens, Greece, Amman, Jordan, and Kahola, Hawaii. He’s also been to Amelia Island, Florida, San Francisco and everywhere in between. Fifty-five of his trips have been outside of Colorado.

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Incriminating Emails Suggest Gov Ritter Played Puppet Master on HB 1365

November 8, 2010 by williamyeatman · 2 Comments
Filed under: Archive 

Last Thursday, seven Colorado State Senators sent Governor Bill Ritter a letter demanding that he remove PUC Commissioners Ron Binz and Matt Baker from deliberations on HB 1365, the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act. The Senators’ request is based on almost 70 pages of emails, obtained by the Colorado Mining Association with a Colorado Open Records Act request, that show how Commissioners Binz and Baker participated in the drafting of the law. The seven Senators and the CMA argue that Binz and Baker cannot possibly maintain impartiality while conducting hearings on the implementation of a law they helped draft.

According to the CMA, the PUC’s involvement in drafting HB 1365 creates the “appearance of impropriety,” because,

“the Commissioners actively engaged in negotiations with a primary regulated utility regarding issues that would come before the Commission for decision directly involving that regulated utility—issues that give the appearance that the Commissioners are pre-disposed toward [Xcel] and the Plan [ie, the HB 1365 implementation plan put forth by Xcel]. In particular, ratemaking treatment for the costs incurred by [Xcel] in implementing the Plan appears to have already been negotiated and resolved. As such, the Commissioners have essentially abdicated their core responsibility to assure that rates are just and reasonable.”

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