Filed under: New Energy Economy, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
By Amy Oliver Cooke
“Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun,” wrote environmental doomsday prophet Dr. Paul Ehrlich in 1975.
That’s a cruel statement directed at people who simply want electric lights so their children can read at night, a refrigerator to keep food from spoiling, or a heater to keep their homes warm during the winter.
Yet it seems to be the approach of Colorado’s environmental Left. Part of the problem is progressive leaders’ extremely narrow definition of “clean” energy that limits resource choices to more costly and unreliable wind and solar.
In 2004, Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, requiring Xcel Energy and other investor-owned utilities to use preferred sources such as wind and solar for 10 percent of the electricity sold to end users.
Since then the Colorado legislature has mandated increases in the renewable (or preferred) energy standard, from 10 to 20 to the current 30 percent by 2020. Only Maine (40 percent by 2017) and California (33 percent by 2020) have more aggressive mandates. They also have higher electric rates than Colorado.
Last year the state legislature passed SB 252, a 20 percent preferred energy standard on Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives. Now nearly the entire state must pay for a significant percentage of electricity produced predominantly from preferred “clean” sources wind and solar.
Since producing electricity from wind and solar is more expensive, Colorado’s electric rates have gone up along with the legislature’s mandates.
Not too long ago, our state enjoyed some of the cheapest electricity in the United States. In 2000, Colorado’s residential rates were 7.31 per kWh, equivalent to 9.89 cents in 2013 dollars. Instead, Coloradans now pay 11.91 cents per kWh for residential electricity, the highest rate in the Mountain West. California, Alaska, and Hawaii are the only Western states with higher residential rates.
Colorado’s electric rates are rising significantly faster than in most states. Last year rates across the U.S. increased on average 2.4 percent, compared to a 4.5 percent jump here.
These high rates couldn’t come at a worse time. Just this week the Denver Post reported that Colorado’s labor participation rate has fallen 6 percentage points since 2006, to its lowest level (67.3 percent) since 1976.
In addition, the number of Coloradans obtaining assistance from food stamps continues to mark all-time high numbers, Complete Colorado reports.
The second week of February saw a 42 percent increase in Coloradans asking government for help paying their heating bills, according to 9News.
The state legislature had an opportunity to modestly improve the situation. Rep. Lori Saine’s (R-Weld County) HB 1138 would have expanded the definition of “clean” energy to include hydroelectricity.
Under HB1138 many electric co-ops that serve Colorado’s rural communities could have met or at least come close to meeting SB 252’s increased mandate. Without the expanded definition, some co-ops will need to build additional capacity and expensive transmission lines, or purchase renewable energy credits from other providers. Some of Colorado’s poorest counties will bear the costs.
Despite HB1138’s bipartisan sponsorship, lobbying from the wind and solar industries and their advocates in the environmental non-profit world doomed the bill in committee.
Progressive state lawmakers’ definition of clean energy is also unique. Many states, including those in the eco-friendly Pacific Northwest, the Center for American Progress, the Environmental Protection Agency, and our own Colorado Energy Office all consider hydro to be a clean, renewable source.
Our state’s extremely narrow definition of clean energy begs the question of whether progressive lawmakers simply seek to protect the wind and solar industry at the expense of ratepayers.
A 2012 Independence Institute study showed Xcel Energy ratepayers spent $343 million to comply with the preferred energy mandate, much of which ended up as surplus because supply exceeded demand. That’s $245 per ratepayer, nearly two months of average Colorado electricity bills, for electricity they didn’t use.
Affordable power is not mutually exclusive of clean power. Colorado should expand the definition of clean resources to include clean coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and nuclear. We also should encourage a least cost principle and let consumers decide.
Anything else is just cruel.
This opinion editorial appeared originally in the Greeley Tribune on February 20, 2014.
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.
A newly released survey provides some powerful ammunition for North Carolina lawmakers who want to freeze the state’s renewable energy mandate at its current level rather than continue its increase to meet the 12.5 percent mandate by 2021.
The Raleigh, North Carolina, based Civitas Institute conducted the state-wide poll and found that while residents like renewable energy in theory they don’t like it in practice, in law, or in cost:
North Carolinians oppose the state law requiring utility companies to purchase a percentage of their energy from so-called renewable energy sources by more than 3-to-1…. Additionally, ratepayers strongly oppose the use of such energy sources as wind or solar if it means paying higher utility bills.
Break downs for responses to two specific questions listed below:
Do you support or oppose the increased usage of renewable sources to generate electricity?
70% Total Support
15% Total Oppose
42% Strongly Support
28% Somewhat Support
6% Somewhat Oppose
9% Strongly Oppose
15% Undecided/Don’t Know
Do you support or oppose the existing state law that requires you to purchase a certain amount of renewable energy each month, even if it costs you more?
21% Total Support
67% Total Oppose
10% Strongly Support
11% Somewhat Support
18% Somewhat Oppose
49% Strongly Oppose
12% Undecided/Don’t Know
Another interesting result is the response to who should pay for the additional cost for electricity produced from sources such as wind and solar. Fifty-eight percent said shareholders of investor owned utilities should shoulder the financial burden. My guess is if shareholders rather than ratepayers had to pay for the cost of wind and solar, the enthusiasm for “green” would diminish substantially.
Earlier in the year, “legislation to freeze the state’s renewable energy mandate stalled in a House Committee, but a similar bill is currently moving through the Senate. “ This poll reveals the bill would be extremely well received by ratepayers.
Despite close to seven hours of testimony on SB13-252, a bill to raise the renewable energy mandate 150 percent on rural electric co-ops, it is very clear that the bill’s prime sponsors Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) do not understand their own bill and didn’t bother to consult those who can comprehend the complexity of this legislation. It passed out of committee on a party line vote.
The bill was heard yesterday in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. Members include:
- Senator Angela Giron, Chair, (D-Pueblo) and a bill sponsor
- Senator Matt Jones, Vice-Chair, (D-Louisville) and a bill sponsor
- Senator Ted Harvey, (R-Highlands Ranch)
- Senator Evie Hudak (D-Westminster)
- Senator Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa)
What the sponsors say it will do:
- Imposes a mandate on rural electric co-ops forcing them to get 25 percent of the electricity they supply to members from government-selected “renewable” sources, such as wind and solar by 2020.
- Removes the in-state preference for the 1.25 kilowatt-hour multiplier.
- Expands the “renewable” sources to include coal-mine methane and municipal waste.
- Increases the retail rate impact from 1 to 2 percent, which Sen. Giron calls “acceptable.”
What the bill really will do:
- Despite no projected fiscal impact to state government, it will cost co-op members anywhere from $2 billion to 4 billion, more than $8,000 per meter, including those in 10 of Colorado’s poorest counties.
- Removes the in-state multiplier because current law is unconstitutional. The state is being sued over it and doesn’t want to lose, which would force the state to pay attorney’s fees.
- Drive jobs out of the state because of high electricity costs.
- “Blow up the electric co-operative business model.”
- Likely force the state to spend taxpayer money defending this new law in court.
- Devastate rural economies.
- Drive up the cost of business for Colorado’s farmers and ranchers at the same time they are suffering through a devastating drought.
- Force co-ops to try to comply with a law that well could be a “physical impossibility.”
- So many people showed up to testify that the hearing had to moved to a larger room, and still an over-flow room was needed to accommodate the crowd
- Neither Senator Morse nor Schwartz could answer basic questions about the rate cap and indicated the committee would hear from “experts” who could answer questions.
- All three Moffat County Commissioners showed up to testify against the bill.
- Tri-State Generation, wholesale power supplier owned by co-ops, and every electric co-op that testified stated they were not consulted at all regarding the bill despite their repeated attempts to engage with sponsors once they heard legislation would be coming.
- Bi-partisan opposition
- Partisan support
- Senator Harvey was the best-prepared legislator.
Below are highlights and lowlights of SB252 testimony.
Forced to admit:
Senator Harvey asked Senator Morse if the electric cooperatives were ever consulted regarding SB 252. Morse couldn’t say, “yes,” so he answered with a long-winded “no.”
Former Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Chairman Ron Binz, who resigned under the cloud of an ethics complaint, acknowledged that Xcel Energy may well benefit by selling “renewable energy credits” (RECs) to Colorado’s rural co-ops in order for them to comply with this law.
Senator Ted Harvey asked several supporters of SB 252 if they would support the 150 percent mandate increase if they didn’t benefit directly from the bill. The answer: “No.”
Senator John Morse stated if the “market” wanted a renewable mandate we would have one. But since the market doesn’t, government must force it.
Supporter and former state representative Buffy McFadden, current Pueblo County Commissioner, said she wasn’t sure if renewable energy would “go to market” if government didn’t force it.
“Two percent rate cap” comes under fire:
Senator Harvey asked sponsors to explain the two percent rate cap. They couldn’t.
Under pressure from Senator Ted Harvey, PUC Executive Director Doug Dean struggled to explain the total cost of the Colorado’s renewable energy mandate and the two percent rate cap. Dean finally acknowledged that the two percent rate cap only applies to “incremental costs,” and followed up with “it’s pretty complicated.”
Binz perpetuates the 2 percent rate cap myth. Says in testimony, “as an officer of the state,” the PUC and Xcel do not mislead the public on the cost of renewable energy.
Four hours later, Independence Institute energy policy analyst William Yeatman directly addresses Binz’s misleading characterization of how Xcel recovers the total cost of the renewable energy mandate. Yeatman clarifies using real numbers: two percent of Xcel’s retail electric sales in 2012 was $53 million, which was captured in the Residential Electric Standard Adjustment (RESA). Another $291 million, not subject to the rate cap, was captured through the Electric Commodity Adjustment for a total of $343 million or 13 percent of retail sales.
Senator Harvey asked Yeatman to explain how the PUC allows this. Yeatman responded that the budgetary trick was likely the result of a dichotomy between PUC staff that acknowledges the public may be “laboring under the misapprehension of a two percent rate cap” and the Commissioners who allow it to occur.
Rich Wilson, CEO of Southeast Colorado Power Association, to bill sponsors: “you just blew apart the non-profit electric cooperative model.”
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers pleads with the committee “don’t pass this bill.”
Kent Singer, Executive Director of Colorado Rural Electric Association (CREA), to bill sponsors and supporters, “even after five hours of testimony, I don’t think you have a clear picture of how this [SB252] works.”
Singer continues, had sponsors come to us, we could have explained it, but they NEVER did.
Singer: two percent rate cap is far more complicated than Ron Binz would lead you to believe.
Dan Hodges, Executive Director of Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities, responding to inquires about why Senator Morse would exclude his own utility owned by the city of Colorado Springs: the state constitution excludes municipal utilities from state regulation because they are owned by their citizens. “it’s unconstitutional” to draw municipals into this…”I don’t think it is appropriate for rural electric cooperatives to be drawn in either” because they are owned by their members.
Binz belittles non-profits cooperatives and their members: “Tri-State [Generation] doesn’t have the state’s interest in mind.” Tri-State is owned by electric cooperatives, which, in turn, are owned by members. Most of those members are rural Coloradans.
Senator Gail Schwartz said her neighbors in Aspen and Snowmass want more options for and access to renewables such as solar panels. My question: Why don’t they just pay for it?
Dave Lock, Senior manager, government relations for Tri-State, addresses Binz, “you can be damn sure Tri-State cares about Colorado.”
Lock responding to Binz’s disbelief about Tri-State’s $2-4billion analysis. “We only had five days,” which included a weekend because we were never allowed at the table.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers, “I own a bar. I’d like to mandate that everyone drink 25 percent more.”
John Kinkaid of Moffat County “we aren’t contributing to your [Denver’s] brown cloud.”
War on Rural Colorado:
All three Moffat County Commissioners John Kinkaid, Tom Mathers, and Chuck Grobe echoed the theme that SB 252 is an assault on rural ratepayers and equivalent to “war on rural Colorado.”
Norma Lou Murr, a Walsenburg senior citizen on a fixed income, waited patiently for hours to testify. When her turn finally came, she asked the committee “to look very seriously” before raising her electric rates.
The way the state legislative Democrats are handling this legislation is similar to how they handled gun control – leave those most impacted out of the conversation and then completely ignore their concerns during testimony.
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.
David Schnare, the Director of Environmental Law Center at the American Tradition Institute and lead attorney in a lawsuit (ATI v. Epel) against Colorado’s 30 percent renewable energy mandate said in an interview on the Amy Oliver Show on Thursday that global warming will be put on trial when he argues that the mandate violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Fresh off his court appearance in Denver on Tuesday, Schnare, explained that Colorado’s renewable energy mandate violates the commerce clause in two ways.
The first is what Schnare calls a “facial” violation. Colorado’s mandate provides preferences for electricity from renewable sources that originate in Colorado. It’s commonly called the multiplier. Every megawatt of electricity from a renewable source inside Colorado is counted as 1.25 megawatts. The same electricity from producers in other states enjoys no such preference. Since Colorado is part of multi-state grid, the multiplier is a significant and unfair advantage in favor of Colorado-produced electricity.
Schnare explained with this analogy, “7.5 apples in Colorado are not equal to 10 apples in another state.”
Apparently Attorney General John Suthers, whose office is charged with defending the mandate, knows that as well. Schnare said it was the AG’s office that tried to get legislation to repeal the multiplier passed at the end of the 2012 session because if the state loses then it has to pay all the attorneys’ fees and costs associated with the lawsuit.
While the bill SB12-178 died last year, Schnare believes a similar bill will pass this year, which brings us to the second violation that Schnare calls a “balancing test” question. Is the harm to interstate commerce greater than the local benefit? Schnare argues that the mandate does not provide any benefit. In fact just the opposite is true.
Under the mandate:
- Electricity cost go up (we prove that here)
- The environment is not improved
- Water isn’t conserved
- The grid is more unstable
- Power generation is more insecure
Much of the renewable energy advocates’ argument in favor of the mandate is the necessity to minimize the negative impacts of man-made global warming. But Schnare suggests, that if global warming is real, then Colorado stands to benefit because it will get more rainfall. So attempts to mitigate global warming will actually cause more harm than good.
Schnare will be back in district court in Denver on May 1, 2013, at which time he expects a timeline for discovery and a trial date, which is good news since this lawsuit was filed originally in April 2011.
Players in the case:
- David Schnare, lead attorney for plaintiffs
- Attorney General John Suthers, lead attorney for defendants/state of Colorado
- Joshua Epel, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission and defendant.
- Ron Lueck, plaintiff, ATI member, and resident of Morrison, Colorado.
- William Yeatman , Independence Institute energy policy analyst and expert witness for the plaintiffs.
- Sierra Club’s Earth Justice, World Wild Life Federation, and Environment Colorado providing much of the research for the state.
- Judge William Martinez assigned judge.
To read all documents related to the case, click here.
I didn’t make up this. The Denver Post lede paragraph in a story about the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is almost laughable:
Hooking a toaster oven to a solar panel is not an easy thing, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s new $135 million integrated energy facility will able do just that. While it may seem like a lot of money for toast, the Energy Systems Integration Facility can do a lot more.
That doesn’t just seem like a lot of money, it IS a lot of money. On this blog we’ve detailed NREL’s excessive spending. And Colorado Watchdog.org exposed NREL’s million dollar employee Executive Director Dan Arvizu.
So is $135 million a lot for toast? For most taxpayers yes but likely not for NREL. It might be more humorous if it weren’t our money. Frankly, we haven’t seen NREL do anything that couldn’t wouldn’t be done better in the private sector — assuming it is done at all.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The numbers are in, and they aren’t pretty. Four of the largest cost driving pieces of legislation enabling Colorado’s New Energy Economy cost Xcel Energy ratepayers nearly half a billion dollars in 2012 alone. Adding insult to injury, some of the electricity produced wasn’t needed in the first place according to a just released report from the Independence Institute’s energy policy analyst William Yeatman. So Xcel ratepayers paid handsomely for electricity that ended up as surplus.
Using Xcel’s regulatory filings Yeatman determined:
- In 2012, the New Energy Economy cost Xcel ratepayers $484 million – more than 18 percent of Xcel’s total electricity sales. Based on 1.4 million ratepayers, the New Energy Economy cost $345 per ratepayer in 2012.
- Due to a depressed economy, there is an oversupply of electricity generation onXcel’s system, which means Xcel ratepayers spent $484 million on the New Energy Economy in 2012 in order to obtain electricity that they did not need
Yeatman also breaks down the cost by each of the four pieces of legislation, which includes the renewable energy mandate and its massive $343,000,000 cost. It’s clear that State Representative Max Tyler’s and former Governor Bill Ritter’s fanciful promise of a two percent rate cap is much different in reality.
Prior to the New Energy Economy, Colorado worked on a least cost principle meaning utilities were to deliver reliable power to ratepayers in the most cost effective manner. When it comes to renewable mandates and the New Energy Economy, state lawmakers would be wise to remember economist Milton Friedman’s words, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
The Independence Institute’s Todd Shepherd, along with this blog, have spent two years covering, and ultimately exposing, what is now the Abound Solar scandal. Understandably, much of the focus is now on Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck’s criminal investigation as well as a Congressional Oversight Committee inquiry into the bankrupt solar panel manufacturer.
Recently released emails on Complete Colorado indicate that, despite statements to the contrary, the White House politicized the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee process for politically well-connected Abound.
But something else within those emails caught my attention reminding me of free market economist and Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman’s famous quote, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” In other words, even things that appear to be free have an associated cost.
This basic economic concept is lost on Colorado State Representative Max Tyler’s (D-Lakewood) who in a March 23, 2010, press release bragged about a government-dictated increase in Colorado’s renewable energy mandate:
With HB 1001 we will manufacture and install panels and turbines all over Colorado to capture free energy….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?
At roughly the same time that Tyler publicly fantasized about “free energy,” a credit advisor for the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program James McCrea was concerned about “major issues” with Abound Solar’s marketability. In an email dated April 1, 2010, just seven days after Tyler’s press release, McCrea explained:
Another issue is the very limited supply of telluride, its potential price trajectory and other demands for it. Related to this is a question of the viability of the Abound panels as compared to other panels and whether there is sufficient benefit to allow the panels to be profitable if Te [telluride] prices really increase. If the price really rises will there be alternative uses that can afford it basically turning it into a non available input for Abound?
I don’t believe we have ever worked with an input material that is so limited. We need to think that through carefully.
Before going bankrupt this summer, Abound produced cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-filmed photovoltaic solar panels. Cadmium and tellurium, used in the manufacturing of Abound’s panels, are two of the world’s 17 “rare earth elements” that are needed for everything from smart phones to solar panels to high tech weapons systems. My former colleague Michael Sandoval, now an investigative reporter with the Heritage Foundation, and I have written several columns on general issues with rare earth elements.
This email highlights the problem specific to Abound, and McCrea was right to be concerned. According to the December 2011 DOE Critical Materials Strategy the price of tellurium has been going up since 2007:
The price dropped in 2006, but in 2007 resumed its upward trend owing to increased production of cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cells.
Furthermore, China controls the vast majority of rare earth elements. In August 2012, the Chinese announced an ambitious plan to increase its stranglehold on the world’s available supply of rare earths. According to China Daily the country:
launched a physical trading platform for rare earth metals as part of its efforts to regulate the sector and strengthen its pricing power for the resources.
As the world’s largest producer of rare earth metals, China now supplies more than 90 percent of the global demand for rare earth metals, although its reserves account for just 23 percent of the world’s total.
The article reiterated what Michael and I have said on numerous occasions, mining rare earths comes with a significant environmental cost that green zealots like Tyler completely ignore when claiming solar energy is free and clean:
Mining the metals greatly damages the environment. In recent years, China has come down heavily on illegal mining and smuggling, cut export quotas and imposed production caps, stricter emissions standards and higher resource taxes to control environmental damage and stave off resource depletion.
However, these measures have irked rare earth importers, who complained about rising prices and strained supplies.
But China did exactly what it said it would do in 2009. It drove up prices with reduced output as global demand increased.
China’s rare earth output fell 36 percent year on year to 40,000 tonnes in the first half of the year. Prices of major rare earth products in July remained twice as high as prices at the beginning of 2011, although down from the beginning of the year.
In July 2009, about a year before President Barack Obama announced a $400 million loan guarantee for Abound, Jack Lifton, an expert on sources and uses of rare minerals, wrote a lengthy article for Resource Investor about the availability of tellurium for First Solar, a global leader in cadmium telluride solar panel manufacturering. Lifton’s conclusion should have served as a prophetic warning for Abound and any hope of profitability:
A company such as First Solar, which is critically dependent on a secure supply of tellurium to exist and on an unsustainable growth in the supply to it of tellurium for it to grow and achieve competitive pricing is a big risk for short-term investors. The maximum supply and production levels attainable of tellurium are quantifiable even if the actual production figures are murky, and they do not bode well for the future of First Solar if it must make profits to survive.
The next time you hear a politician like Max Tyler tout the benefits of “free” and “clean” energy, remember Abound Solar because there is no such thing as a free lunch.