June 4 Energy Roundup: Hickenlooper vs. EPA, New Mexico enviro officials cast doubt on Clean Power Plan, and the return of ‘green’ billionaire Tom Steyer
Filed under: Archive, Environmental Protection Agency, Legislation, New Energy Economy, PUC
“The Coming Storm of Federal Energy Regulations and Their Impact on Colorado Business”
Are you concerned about the future of the Colowyo Coal Mine? Want to know more about costly new EPA regs on carbon and ozone??
Join our panel of experts to get the facts and get your questions answered.
WHEN: 5:30 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 17 (doors open at 5 p.m.; cash bar)
WHERE: Strings Music Pavilion, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
**FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC**
Questions? email@example.com or (970) 846-6013
Moderator: Amy Oliver Cooke
Director, Energy Policy Center Independence Institute
RAYMOND L. GIFFORD
Attorney/Partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP; former Chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission
Senior Director of Policy, Institute for 21st Century Energy – U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Senior Manager of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs – Tri-State Generation & Transmission Assoc.
One of New Mexico’s leading environmental officials calls the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan’s scope–and legality–into question:
New Mexico environmental officials are among others in two dozen states pushing back against proposed federal restrictions on emissions from existing power plants. Without state support, the proposed Clean Power Plan won’t reduce carbon dioxide emissions the way the Obama administration hopes it will, according to a new report released by the nonprofit Brookings Institute.
When it comes to clean air, the federal government can set standards, but states decide how to enforce them. New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn, an attorney, is one of many environment officials across the country who think the rule has problems and may be illegal.
“We agree with the overall goal of the proposed Clean Power Plan,” said department spokeswoman Allison Majure in a statement. “However, we are also extremely concerned about the unprecedented breadth of the proposal.”
New Mexico’s comments on the CPP revealed a pattern of failing by the EPA to communicate with other agencies and states in crafting the proposed clean air regulations:
Majure added in her statement, “The Environmental Protection Agency is using the Clean Air Act, which was designed to control air pollution at the source, to dictate America’s energy policy for the next 20 years,” reflecting comments the department filed with the EPA regarding the rule months ago.
She also said the EPA failed to consult with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, energy producers and the Department of Energy in crafting the plan.
The full Brookings report in the article above can be viewed and downloaded here.
State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-SD1) examines Gov. Hickenlooper’s capitulation to the EPA over implementing the Clean Power Plan:
While the letter between US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was the focus of the media, it’s a third letter dated December 1, 2014, from the heads of Colorado’s three environmental agencies to the EPA, which will impact Colorado’s three million business and residential utility customers. After 2017, those customers will likely be paying much higher prices as a result of mistakes and miscalculations made over the past year by state and federal officials.
icon_op_edSen. McConnell’s March 19 letter called on all 50 state governors to delay compliance with an EPA carbon-cutting plan until the legality of the plan has been settled in court. Thirteen states are suing to block the EPA plan on legal and constitutional grounds. Hickenlooper’s response, which some climate crusaders cheered as a brush-off of McConnell, indicated that Colorado intends to comply with EPA mandates, which the governor believes are legal.
The bottom line here is that Gov. Hickenlooper has been consistently inconsistent when dealing with recent regulatory onslaughts from Washington. For example, he’s been reasonably proactive in opposing a threatened species listing for the Sage Grouse, and he’s also been forceful in responding to the potential shut-down of the Colowyo coal mine near Craig. But on the EPA’s “climate change” agenda – and the new EPA rules further restricting the state’s control of small bodies of water — that healthy skepticism has been missing.
Finally, former fossil fuel and hedge fund billionaire turned green crusader, Tom Steyer, appears to be doubling down on Colorado after a failed 2014 election cycle, as the folks from Energy In Depth report:
San Francisco billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer, who spent more than $7 million in a failed campaign to defeat U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) last year, is keeping his Colorado political operation in place. Campaign finance reports show Steyer’s campaign arm, NextGen Climate Action Committee, has spent more than $80,000 on polling and research in Colorado this year.
Steyer, whose foundation is known for writing large checks to green groups, is also strengthening his ties with environmental organizations in Colorado. This week, he will be in Denver to accept an award from Conservation Colorado. Dubbed “Colorado’s largest political event for the environment,” other attendees will include elected officials and leaders from the state’s environmental movement.
Last year, Steyer held talks with millionaire Boulder Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colo.) about splitting the cost of putting anti-fracking measures on the statewide ballot. Ultimately, those measures were pulled before they could reach the ballot, and Steyer chose instead to put his money behind a failed campaign against Gardner. Through it all, Steyer worked with “ban fracking” groups and national environmental organizations to effectively campaign against Colorado’s energy industry, its supporters, and tens of thousands of men, women and families whose livelihoods depend on the oil and natural gas sector. He lost badly, but Steyer is coming back for more.
We’ll have an update next week on Steyer’s visit, and if any of his comments during the Denver trip are made public.
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.
Colorado already has the most expensive electric rates of all neighboring states and the second highest in the Rocky Mountain West, with projections to go even higher in the near future. Now, a bill just introduced into the state senate threatens to make Colorado’s energy rates even more expensive. The following is a column from the Colorado Consumer Coalition about the dangers of SB 178. Senator Kevin Lundberg offered an amendment that would have achieved the bill’s supposed primary purpose and saved consumers money, but it was voted down as the column details.
Colorado consumers—from Denver down to Pueblo and all across the state—could wind up paying even more for their electricity following a troubling development at the legislature this week. An obscure bill just introduced on Tuesday with almost no warning, only days before the end of the 2012 session, would pull the rug out from under the state’s public utilities and turn their long-term energy planning inside-out. And ratepayers would be left holding the bag.
Senate Bill 178 would scrap a key feature of Colorado’s renewable-energy mandate, on which utilities have based their plans and projections for years to come; the change would force them to get even more of their electricity from pricey renewables like wind and solar power than the law now requires. Specifically, the bill would take away a break that utilities have been able to pass on to consumers as they strive to meet costly state mandates to derive 30 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030.
The break to ratepayers was enacted in 2004 along with the mandates because those who had been advocating for the shift to a greater reliance on alternative fuels also realized such a seismic change doesn’t come cheaply. And it’s neither fair nor even possible to make hard-pressed home- and business owners bear the whole burden. So, the policy’s authors not only placed a 2-percent cap on year-to-year rate increases due to the increased cost of renewables, but they also wrote the law to give extra credit to utilities for switching to alternative energy sources. That gave the utilities greater flexibility in meeting the statutory standards for renewables so consumers wouldn’t have to dig so deeply into their pockets.
Now, SB 178 aims to monkey-wrench that delicate balance. By revoking the extra credit for switching to renewable energy after 2015, the bill effectively would require the public to rely on an even higher percentage of renewable energy sources than most of the state’s utilities had anticipated. The result would be to wreak havoc with the balance sheets and strategic plans of the utilities, for-profit and nonprofit alike. They’d have to scramble to acquire more renewable sources for power and, inevitably, pass the cost on to the public through higher power bills.
Not surprisingly, when the bill was unveiled Wednesday at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, lawmakers got an earful from representatives of some of those utilities as well as other stakeholders—many of whom had only heard of the legislation a few days earlier and, in some cases, only hours prior to the hearing. And they told lawmakers point-blank what would happen if the bill were enacted.
“This bill will result in increased costs to… members and their customers,” said Thomas Dougherty, representing Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a wholesale electric power supplier owned by 44 electric cooperatives and serving 900,000 Coloradans.
Ratepayers of Black Hills Energy, which serves the Pueblo region, would be dealt a major blow by the legislation, the company’s Wenday Moser told lawmakers Wednesday.
“We are very concerned about Senate Bill 178 because we are concerned about our ability to meet the renewable energy standard,” Moser said. “As of now, Black Hills is marginally meeting the standard…We are struggling to meet that standard.”
Dougherty had noted in his testimony that even though the law caps renewable-energy cost increases at 2 percent a year on power bills, that increase in an of itself still can pack a punch for consumers. And Moser made clear that the cap really won’t spare consumers at all over the long run.
She pointed out that companies such as hers simply will be forced to assess that extra 2 percent “for many more years” until recovering the added costs of the additional renewables. After all, the utilities are legally bound to attain the renewable-energy standard; it’ll just take them longer to recover those costs from consumers.
Why this bill at this time—out of the blue like this? What possibly could have motivated some lawmakers to propose such a reckless policy for so little gain—at a time when Colorado already is well on its way toward greater reliance on renewable energy?
A representative of Attorney General John Suthers told the committee at Wednesday’s hearing that his office wasn’t behind the bill but had endorsed it because of concerns about a provision in the current law allowing the extra renewable-energy credits for purchases of Colorado energy but not for renewables originating outside the state. That, the AG’s rep said, set up Colorado for a constitutional challenge in court.
Fine, responded a skeptical Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud—then why not simply extend the same extra credit to any acquisition of renewable energy from outside Colorado as well? Lundberg was told the attorney general would in fact be fine with that alternative, so Lundberg proposed it as an amendment to the bill. Unfortunately, it was voted down.
Lundberg and fellow Judiciary Committee Sens. Steve King, of Grand Junction, and Ellen Roberts, of Durango, deserve credit for asking tough and probing questions about the bill during the hearing. All three laudably voted against the measure, but they were outgunned by the majority, and the measure now moves to the Senate floor for further action.
Pending what happens next, let’s give credit to Black Hills Energy, too, for telling lawmakers what they really needed to hear—whether they wanted to or not—about a costly, destructive bill with no discernible value to Colorado Consumers.
My take: this bill isn’t about leveling the playing field for in-state versus out-of-state renewable energy producers but rather about forcing Colorado energy consumers to rely more heavily upon unreliable, expensive wind and solar energy. To make matters worse, this will be a windfall for Xcel Energy because the more expensive electricity is, the more Xcel makes. If this bill gets fast-tracked through the legislature like HB 1365, the infamous fuel-switching bill, consumers will have more proof that Xcel “owns” the state legislature.