March 3 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: EPA’s McCarthy ‘good news about Gold King’; a Tesla will improve your ‘quality of life’

Environmental Protection Administrator Gina McCarthy: “But, the good news about Gold King is that, you know, it really was a bright color, but the bright color was because the iron was oxidizing. It meant we had actually less problem than how it usually leaks, [laugh] which is pretty constantly, and so it was only a half a day’s release of what generally comes from those mines and goes into those rivers.”

The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch had more on the story:

The EPA-caused spill unleashed the equivalent of “9 football fields spread out at one foot deep” for a couple hours, according to a report by University of Arizona researchers.

Mine waste from Gold King was only coming out at a rate of 112 gallons per minute in August 2014. After the spill, wastewater was coming out at a rate of 500 to 700 gallons per minute.

While there have thankfully been no reported short-term health problems from the spill, experts are worried the toxic metals, like arsenic and lead, that leaked from the mine could pose long-term health problems.

“There is a potential for such sediments to be stirred up and metals released during high water events or recreational use,” University of Arizona researchers wrote. “The metals could become concentrated in fish that live in the river and feed on things that grow in the sediments. Metals in the sediments could seep into the groundwater, resulting in impacts to drinking and irrigation water.”

And the question of culpability for the EPA remains, as a House committee finds additional evidence implicating the agency directly:

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, cornered Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Tuesday over an email he says contradicts her statements that a toxic mine spill the Environmental Protection Agency caused last year in Colorado was an “accident.”

The mine blowout released 3 million gallons of heavy-metal-tainted water into the Colorado Animas River and the waterways of New Mexico and Utah. Bishop’s committee recently subpoenaed the Interior Department in February to provide it with email communications between Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Much of what they received back was completely redacted, Bishop said. But one email that Interior sent to the panel, unrelated to the subpoena, was revealing.

The email shows “that less than 48 hours after the blowout, your employee in Colorado talks to the EPA official in charge, and then emails all senior leadership at [the Bureau of Land Management], and basically says that EPA was deliberately removing a small portion of the plug to relieve pressure in the mine when the blowout occurred.”


ICYMI: Energy Policy Center associate analyst Simon Lomax’s latest column:

It was a rare moment of honesty from an environmental activist: “It is not easy to talk about the kind of massive changes that we need to make; about how we think, about what we eat, where it comes from, how we entertain ourselves, what kind of holidays we take,” said Kumi Naidoo, former executive director of Greenpeace International. “All of these things actually are very painful to talk about.”

Naidoo, who led Greenpeace for six years before departing late last year, made these remarks in mid-February at a climate-change forum in Germany. He was answering the question of an Icelandic official, who wanted to know why governments aren’t doing more to crack down on “meat consumption,” and other economic excesses that produce greenhouse gases. “We have to change the way we consume,” the official concluded at the end of her question.

On the same panel, three seats across from Naidoo, sat U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). As the former Greenpeace activist wrapped up his answer, the American lawmaker saw his climate and energy talking points going up in flames, and tried to get back on message.

“Let me just push back very gently on one point,” Whitehouse said, in comments first reported by The Harry Read Me File. “I don’t want to leave the impression that mankind must suffer in order to make these changes. The changes in consumption can actually be enjoyable and beneficial.”

Then he offered an example: “If you trade in your Mercedes for a Tesla, your quality of life just went up.”

Read it all here.


Have not had much on wind energy in a while, and the latest headline is somewhat revealing–wind sources acknowledge their lethal impact on birds, and propose to use technology to shut them down whenever a bird is nearby, making the energy source even more erratic and intermittent, not to mention the wear and tear of stop/start on the turbines themselves:

What if a wind turbine knew to shut down when a bird was too close? That vision is the goal of ongoing research in Golden, and birds themselves are helping to develop a solution.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been conducting avian research alongside various industry partners to drastically reduce avian deaths by wind turbine collisions.

Colorado has 1,916 operating wind turbines statewide, placing it eighth in the nation for the number of turbines within a state.

Although those wind turbines accounted for only a small percentage of bird deaths annually, Jason Roadman, a technical engineer for NREL said that percentage should be zero.

“Renewable energy is something that I and a lot of people strongly believe in, so we want to make it as low impact as possible,” Roadman said. “The rates of wild bird collisions are fairly low on these solar-wind farms, but they’re not zero. So anything we can do to reduce the footprint of the negative effects of alternative energy, we’ll make every effort toward.”

Leaving the question of turbine resiliency and energy generation fluctuation aside, the admission that such measures are necessary to alleviate the threat to birds, including the heavily protected eagles and other raptors, is quite a step from a few years ago, when wind proponents minimized any such concern and sought takings extensions to prop up one of the industry’s most glaring shortcomings.


To say it’s been a rough 18 months for oil and gas would be an understatement, and the effect of the drop in commodities prices is being reflected in new figures from local businesses and communities:

Anadarko Petroleum Corp., one of the biggest oil and gas companies working in Colorado, will have only one drilling rig operating in the state during 2016 — down from an average of seven in 2015.

The Texas company (NYSE: APC), based in The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston, on Tuesday followed its peers by releasing budget figures and plans for 2016 that are a far cry from last year.

Hammered by a bust in oil and gas prices brought on by an international glut in supplies, oil and gas companies have slashed budgets, laid off employees and sold assets in the struggle to survive.

Anadarko, which has operations in the U.S. and around the world, said Tuesday it expects to spend between $2.6 billion and $2.8 billion this year, down nearly 50 percent from its 2015 budget.

About half that money, $1.1 billion, will be spent in the United States, and about half that amount — approximately $500 million — spent in the Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin during 2016, according to the company.

By comparison, Anadarko said a year ago it expected to spend about $1.8 billion on its Colorado operations in 2015.

Cuts like Anadarko’s have already manifested in places heavily involved in natural resource development, like northern Colorado’s Weld County:

Weld County’s economy appears to have entered a hard skid, now confirmed by larger-than-expected downward revisions to the number of people employed in oil and gas and mining statewide.

Preliminary employment counts last month estimated the county gained a net 3,800 payroll jobs between December 2014 and last December.

But revisions based on the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages for the third quarter from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment out Wednesday now project the county lost 500 jobs last year.

“It is playing out as we expected. It has just been more delayed than expected,” said Brian Lewandowski, associate director of the business research division at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Weld County accounted for about 90 percent of the state’s oil production last year, and oil and gas producers account for about three-quarters of employment in the mining sector, Lewandowski said.

Mining has also been hit hard:

The QCEW revisions show what was initially measured as a modest 3.9 percent year-over-year decline in mining employment is running closer to a 20.7 percent drop.

Viewed another way, the loss of 1,400 mining sector jobs last year is now estimated at closer to 7,500, a nearly fivefold increase.

And while the number crunchers characterize the information as “delayed”–due to being lagging indicators following the commodity prices dropping–the impact was within a year, not a much longer or slowed trend that plays out over time.

A similar downturn has already been seen in severance taxes in the same area, as we noted a month ago in the Cheat Sheet:

Pushing for bans on fracking or other measures to limit responsible natural resource development will only exacerbate problems at the local level, putting education, infrastructure, and other critical services at risk, on top of the drop noted here in the Denver Post due to commodity prices tanking:

Because 97 percent of Platte Valley’s budget comes from taxes paid on mineral production and equipment — a property tax known as ad valorem — McClain said his district could be looking at a budget reduction between $300,000 and nearly $1 million next school year.
How that plays out in terms of potential cuts or program impacts is yet to be seen, he said.
“You’re always concerned about your folks,” McClain said. “You worry about it taking the forward momentum and positivity out.”
It’s not just schools that are suffering. Municipal budgets, local businesses and even hospitals in mineral-rich pockets of Colorado are watching closely to see how long prices remain depressed.

Combine that with a 72.3 percent drop in severance tax revenue–down to $77.6 million this year compared with $280 million last fiscal year–and you’ll get, in the words of the Post, “the state’s direct distributions of those proceeds to cities, counties, towns and schools will be reduced from a little more than $40 million in 2015 to just $11.9 million this year.


Xcel says the future of solar is bright:

Xcel Energy filed a new renewable energy plan with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission Monday that could more than double its portfolio of solar power in the state over the next three years.

“Our plan is all about our energy future in Colorado, and allowing our customers to choose and pay for the energy sources that they believe are best for them,” David Eves, president of Public Service Co. of Colorado, said in a statement.

The plan would add 421 megawatts of new power from renewable sources, enough for 126,300 homes, over the next three years. The bulk of that amount, 401 megawatts, would come from solar.

Xcel Energy, which currently obtains more than 22 percent of its power from renewable sources, said it is on track to meet or beat the state mandate of 30 percent from renewable sources by 2020.

The solar industry, however, is not impressed with Xcel, saying the utility should do more to encourage distributed generation:

But one leading solar advocate questioned the utility’s sincerity, given that Xcel, in a separate rate case, has asked for cuts to what it pays customers who put solar power onto the grid.

“Xcel’s view of the energy future is not the only one that Coloradans should consider. The public really needs to have a say here,” said Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association.

Xcel currently offers to take on 2 megawatts of additional solar power at the start of each month, but that capacity is reserved within 15 to 20 minutes.

“We don’t think there should be an allocation, a ‘Mother may I have some capacity’ system,’ ” Cantwell said. “The industry is ready to play a much bigger part in Colorado’s energy future.”

Solar remains captive to the need for government mandates, rebates, handouts, and incentives to spur growth beyond the natural market preference of customers desiring to install the preferred energy source. The cost of panels may be declining (again, due in no small part to taxpayer-funded R&D grants, state and federal mandates, and other subsidies), but the cost of a system remains daunting.

If you have any doubt about the extent of government programs to encourage solar and other renewables, take a look of this list compiled by the Department of Energy. It lists 129 programs for Colorado alone.


As for the resources necessary for renewables and battery storage, here’s a new report from the Institute for Energy Research, as they show that renewables increase dependency on foreign sources:

One of the common reasons people claim to support wind and solar technologies is to reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy. For example, green energy supporter Jay Faison told the Wall Street Journal “If we expand our clean energy technologies, we’ll create more jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy…”[i] The problem is that green energy actually increases reliance on imports instead of reducing imports.

Green energy technologies are dependent on rare earth minerals and lithium for batteries–both of which are primarily imported into the United States. Most of the world’s rare earth minerals are produced in China (85 percent); and that country supplies the United States with most of its rare earth imports (71 percent). The United States only produces 24 percent of the rare earth minerals that it needs.[ii] In 2013, the United States imported 54 percent of the lithium it used, with Chile and Argentina supplying 96 percent of those imports.[iii] Some believe that lithium may be the “new oil”, eclipsing oil as a source for geopolitical and economic power.[iv] Clearly, Tesla, who is building a gigafactory in Nevada to produce lithium-ion batteries for its cars and Powerwall storage device, needs access to low-cost lithium. In contrast to these figures, the United States now imports only 27 percent of the oil it uses domestically.[v]


And about that reliability argument:

Green energy is so unreliable and intermittent that it could wreck the power grid, according to industry and government experts.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently investigating how green energy undermines the reliability of the electrical grid. FERC believe there is a “significant risk” of electricity in the United States becoming unreliable because “wind and solar don’t offer the services the shuttered coal plants provided.” Environmental regulations could make operating coal or natural gas power plant unprofitable, which could compromise the reliability of the entire power grid.

“The intermittency of renewable sources of electricity is already threatening reliability in Britain,” Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. ”This is because there are so many windmills that conventional power plants are being closed as uneconomic and so when the wind doesn’t blow there is not adequate backup power available. To avoid blackouts, the government is now paying large sums to have several hundred big diesel generators on standby. If this sounds crazy, it is.”

November 5 Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet: Hickenlooper seeks CO Supreme guidance on Coffman EPA lawsuit; divestment movement is back at CU; WOTUS opposition in U.S. Senate

November 5, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legislation, PUC, regulations 

Governor John Hickenlooper finally filed his request with the Colorado Supreme Court to determine which office–governor or attorney general–has the final say in Colorado’s lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, joined the lawsuit with approximately two dozen other states in October.

Via the BARN blog:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today filed a petition asking the Colorado Supreme Court to issue a legal rule that the governor, not the attorney general, has the ultimate authority to decide on behalf of the state when to sue the federal government in federal court.

“The attorney general has filed an unprecedented number of lawsuits without support of or collaboration with her clients,” said Jacki Cooper Melmed, chief legal counsel to the governor. “This raises serious questions about the use of state dollars and the attorney-client relationship between the governor, state agencies and the attorney general.”

From the full petition:

Governor Hickenlooper petitions this Court under Colorado Constitution art. VI, § 3, and C.A.R. 21 for a rule requiring Attorney General Coffman to show cause regarding her legal authority to sue the United States without the Governor’s authorization. In this Petition, he requests a ruling on the Governor’s and Attorney General’s respective authority under the Constitution and laws of Colorado to determine whether the State of Colorado should sue the United States. The Governor asks this Court to issue a legal declaration that (1) the Governor, not the Attorney General, has ultimate authority to decide on behalf of the State of Colorado whether to sue the federal government, and (2) the Attorney General’s lawsuits against the federal government without the Governor’s authorization must be withdrawn.

No doubt this request will remain at the top of the news between the Democratic Governor and the Republican Attorney General as the hotly contested and controversial Clean Power Plan moves forward despite pending lawsuits. The EPA has already schedule a series of public hearings on the CPP implementation at four locations over the next two weeks in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Denver.

How contested is the rule? At least twenty-six states have filed lawsuits–24 in a joint lawsuit, with two other states filing separately–while 18 states have filed a motion on behalf of the EPA and the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan has split the country in half. More to come.


Earnest but misguided students at the University of Colorado have resurrected their divestment push and will harangue the CU Board of Regents with the usual mix of ideology and theater today, even after being voted down 7-2 back in April:

Also on Thursday, the student group Fossil Fuel CU is planning an “action” toward the end of the board’s meeting, complete with banners, signs, posters and singing. That’s likely to be a recurring theme again this year.

“The folks who don’t stand with us anticipated that that block in process would dishearten student leaders or stifle the campaign we’ve been building for two years, but it actually did quite the opposite,” said P.D. Gantert, who is taking time off from CU classes to organize divestment movements across the southwestern United States. “It emboldened us to take even more risky and loud actions to stand up for what we know is the change that needed to happen at our university.”

Here’s what I had to say back in April during a board meeting and hearing on the divestment question, as quoted by the Daily Camera:

“The anti-fossil fuel campaign is really a national campaign run by far-left environmental activists,” said Michael Sandoval of the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Denver, during a board meeting in April. “To be blunt, this is a national campaign using college students to shut down one of Colorado’s leading job creators.”

Schools from Swarthmore to Harvard, hardly conservative bastions, have rejected the arguments in favor of divestment. Our own spring intern, Lexi Osborn, took down the divestment arguments in an op-ed for the Greeley Tribune back in February:

Divestment activists appear willing to jeopardize university assets in the name of saving the planet. Yet they may not realize how ineffective their project would be.

A new report by the American Security Project found that university divestment from fossil fuels will have no mitigating effects on carbon emissions. Divestment does not decrease the demand for fossil fuels; it merely moves the money around. The campaign additionally ignores the complexities of transitioning to a “renewable and emission-neutral economy.”

Another study by University of Oxford found that, even if all capital were divested from university endowments and public pension funds, it would be such a small percentage of the market capitalization of traded fossil fuel companies that the divestment would barely impact the fossil fuel industry.

But the divestment of fossil fuel assets might not be the real goal of the campaign. In a video interview, Klein states that they are using the movement to create a space where it is easier to tax, nationalize and undermine oil companies. She claims that the people have a right to the oil industry’s “illegitimate” profits to make up for the crisis created by this sector.


The U.S. Senate moved beyond court injunctions on the EPA’s stalled Waters of the United States rule this week, with Republicans pushing forward on a repeal measure and another calling for revisions, with the former facing a veto from the Democratic administration, and the latter falling to Democratic opposition in the Senate itself:

“Coloradans know when they’re getting soaked,” Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, said following votes on Tuesday. “This rule is so poorly written and ill-conceived that multiple federal judges have put halts on its implementation.”

The resolution that passed in an effort to essentially repeal the rule fell under the Congressional Review Act, which allows for a simple majority to disapprove of any regulation. It passed Wednesday 53-44. The White House has already issued a veto threat.

The measure calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite the water rule required a procedural vote to advance. But it fell three short of the 60 votes needed, with Democrats leading the effort to stop the bill.

Gardner supported a rewrite in order to enact stronger state and agricultural protections with more input from local communities. He also supported the resolution eliminating the rule.

“The WOTUS rule is a classic example of federal overreach, giving the EPA authority to regulate ponds, ditches and tiny streams across Colorado and the West,” Gardner said.

Sen. Michael Bennet helped quash the rewrite measure.


The ongoing battle between the city of Boulder and Xcel Energy received clarification from the Public Utilities Commission this week.


Despite production records, Noble Energy sees losses in the third quarter due to lower commodity prices, and will likely trim staff numbers later this month.

July 16 Colorado Energy Roundup: Sec. Jewell adds Colowyo Mine visit; renewable energy mandate upheld

July 16, 2015 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Legal, preferred energy, renewable energy 

A week after the Department of the Interior declined to move forward with an appeal in the Colowyo Mine case, and facing mounting pressure to visit the northwest portion of Colorado during a scheduled trip to Aspen, Sec. Sally Jewell appears to have conceded to a meeting with county commissioners:

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said Wednesday that Jewell has added a meeting with northwest Colorado county commissioners to her itinerary Friday following her speech at the Aspen Institute.

“We look forward to meeting Secretary Jewell this Friday evening,” Kinkaid said. “I hope that she will be able to give us some assurances that our miners can keep working.”

He said he expected the meeting to include commissioners from Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, whose communities would bear the brunt of a mine closure. The meeting will take place in Glenwood Springs.

Jewell had come under pressure to visit the area after it was announced that she would deliver remarks Friday at the Aspen Institute, about a three-hour drive from Craig, where residents are alarmed about the future of the mine.

We’ll keep you posted on developments of the planned meeting.


Colorado’s preferred energy renewable mandate was upheld this week:

The mandate, which voters passed in 2004 and expanded in 2010, was challenged by the free-market advocacy group Energy and Environment Legal Institute. The group argued that the renewable energy requirements violate the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit claimed that the requirement that large utilities such as Xcel Energy get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources violates constitutional protections for interstate commerce.

The plaintiffs argued that because electricity can go anywhere on the grid and come from anywhere on the grid, Colorado mandate illegally harms out-of-state companies.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver disagreed. The three-judge panel ruled that the mandate does not wrongly burden out-of-state coal producers. The judges also pointed out that Colorado voters approved the mandate.

The full text of the ruling can be found here.


For those who do not think increased energy costs–whether from increased cost of supply of fuel, onerous regulations, or government picking (more expensive) energy winners–affect lower and middle income families in Colorado, a new examination of the state’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) reveals how devastating even modest price increases in energy can be:

About 430,000 households in Colorado — 22 percent of all households — are eligible for federal energy assistance.

These households have incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $36,372 for a family of four.

About 13 percent of Colorado households are below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.

The federal Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, or LEAP, administered by local agencies, provided $47 million for heating bills during the 2014-15 season.

The article laments that program has a low reach at the present time, with only 19 percent of those eligible receiving outreach.

But the article’s lede is buried–even small, incremental increases have a large and outsized effect on low-income folks given the portion of income they spend on energy:

Xcel, the state’s largest electricity utility, calculates monthly payments based on 3 percent of a household’s income.

Average households pay 2 percent to 3 percent for energy, compared with low-income households, which often pay as much as 50 percent.

“That leaves very little for food, clothing, medicine,” said Pat Boland, Xcel’s manager of customer policy and assistance.

“Once we get them in the door, we want to keep them in the door,” Boland said in a presentation.

According to the article, Black Hills reaches only 10 percent of those eligible within its system. It pays for the assistance by charging other ratepayers, and is considering a rate hike to cover the program, which is currently losing money. That hike, along with three other rate increases since 2008, make Black Hills among the most expensive electricity providers in the state, the Post article said.


Despite a quiet 2015, fracking is still maintaining a low boil on the backburner of the state’s energy debate, and there is every indication that it won’t be simmering any time soon, and Democratic Rep. Jared Polis told the Associated Press that options remain:

Polis said fracking could be on the 2016 ballot if state officials don’t further regulate the industry. He stopped short of saying whether he would organize the effort, but he wants lawmakers and regulators to adopt three proposals that weren’t formally recommended by the task force.

One would let local governments impose stricter rules than the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, charged with regulating drilling statewide. Another would change the commission’s role from facilitating oil and gas development to simply regulating it. The third would set up a panel to resolve disputes between energy companies and local governments or property owners before they land in court.

It remains to be seen whether or not activists, with or without Polis’s sponsorship, pursue a strategy like they did in 2013, targeting friendly and even tossup municipalities with fracking bans and moratoria, or wait for statewide opportunities in the 2016 Presidential election cycle.


The Bureau of Land Management has closed off nearly 100,000 acres of federal land from future leasing:

The Bureau of Land Management rejected all 19 protests from conservation groups, the oil and gas industry and other interests in approving a new resource management plan for the Colorado River Valley Field Office.

The Colorado River Valley Field Office, in Silt, manages more than 500,000 acres of land and more than 700,000 acres of subsurface federal minerals in Garfield, Mesa, Rio Blanco, Pitkin, Eagle and Routt counties. The agency says the majority of the 147,500 acres with high potential for oil and gas production under the office’s jurisdiction are already leased and will continue producing under the plan.

The plan closes 98,100 acres for future leasing, including in the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area near New Castle, areas managed for wilderness characteristics, areas of critical environmental concern, municipalities and designated recreation areas.


In addition to the endangered Colowyo Mine, another Colorado mine with 150 employees faces environmental review and possible closure:

A second Craig-area coal mine apparently also will have to undergo a remedial federal environmental review process if it hopes to avoid a shutdown based on a recent court order.

The Trapper Mine near Craig is now looking at going through the same kind of review currently underway in the case of the Colowyo Mine between Craig and Meeker following a federal judge’s ruling in May.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson, in a suit brought by WildEarth Guardians, found that the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement illegally approved expansions of the two mines because it failed to provide public notice of the decisions and account for the environmental impacts.

The Trapper Mine faces discrepancies over permitted areas and coverage under filings with Judge Jackson, who did not impose a similar ruling as that issued for the Colowyo Mine.

In a notice filed last week to alert the court about the new information, the Trapper attorneys said they support doing remedial environmental analysis involving the Trapper Mine after the Colowyo review is done.

Bob Postle, manager of the program support division for the OSMRE’s western region, said the notice has “just been filed, and we’re now working through how we’re going to address it.”

Given the discrepancies, it isn’t clear at this moment whether a new or remedial environmental review is necessary, according to Trapper’s legal counsel.


In a meeting with Republican Senator Cory Gardner, western slope businesses and entrepreneurs described facing onerous regulatory burdens imposed by DC bureaucrats:

A Moffat County sheepherder, Delta hardware shop owner and Grand Junction manufacturer all walked into a meeting Friday with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., each with much the same punchline in mind.

The common theme: The federal government is reaching too far into their businesses, discouraging them from seeking out new ways of doing business and growing.

Constraining regulations have “taken the creativity out of business,” Jim Kendrick, owner of Delta Hardware, told Gardner. “The move is to make us all do business the same way. That’s stifling growth.”

Gardner met with two dozen western Colorado business and economic leaders at Colorado Mesa University in hopes of finding ways to improve the state’s sputtering rural economy.

“I spend all my time on regulatory compliance and none of it on product development,” one Department of Defense contractor said. That would result in pushing more business to bigger vendors able to hurdle all of the regulatory red tape due to a larger staff.

Sputtering Wind Energy Prompts Transmission Cost Concerns from Xcel

May 28, 2014 by michael · Comments Off
Filed under: preferred energy, renewable energy, wind energy 

Growing transmission costs for wind-generated electricity have prompted Xcel Energy to seek approval for rate hikes to smaller utilities using Xcel’s transmission lines to reach their consumers:

Xcel wants the utilities to pay for its costs associated with having supplies of reserve power ready to go in case the wind suddenly dies, said Terri Eaton, Xcel’s director of federal regulatory and compliance efforts.

Currently, those costs are paid by Xcel’s business and residential customers, Eaton said.

If the transmission lines customers can supply their own back-up power supplies, they wouldn’t be charged under the proposed rates, she said.

Readily available, back-up power supplies are critical to keep the transmission grid in balance and avoid blackouts that can occur when a big source of power suddenly disappears, Eaton said.

Xcel’s hikes would hit rural cooperatives and other utilities should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approve the rate hike at the beginning of 2015.

But what, exactly, does Eaton mean when she refers to “reserve power ready to go in case the wind suddenly dies”?

“We’ve seen some dramatic wind fall-offs in really short periods of time,” Eaton said.

Xcel has already experienced such falls offs, when “several hundreds of megawatts of wind” drops dramatically — and swiftly — due to changes in the wind, she said.

“Sometimes the wind is just howling, and an hour later the wind has calmed — and it’s in those circumstances that we need to have reserves available to pick up the load,” Eaton said.

In such cases, backup power supplies typically come from natural gas-fueled power plants, she said.

The tariff proposed by Xcel would help cover the costs when the wind “suddenly dies.”

The intermittency of wind has been widely discussed, and no amount of forecasting or improved efficiency will spin a wind turbine’s blades if the wind isn’t blowing.

In 2012, a study examined wind generation in Illinois at the height of a summer heat wave, when energy demands rise to yearly highs. The author found that just 5 percent of installed wind capacity was available during that outbreak of record temperatures, and at times, “virtually nonexistent.”

Earlier this year, wind energy proponents touted the example provided in Texas–wind had saved the day. But a closer examination of the figures from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) demonstrated that contrary to claims that wind had bailed out conventional sources of electricity by ensuring grid reliability, wind had actually fallen so substantially that Texas turned to other sources to meet the extra 1,000 megawatts of demand on January 6. Both scheduled and unscheduled plant closure elsewhere had left Texas with a gap during a record cold snap, a gap that wind was unable to fill.

As the Institute for Energy Research wrote in January, only 3.2 percent of the energy needs of the Texas grid operated by ERCOT came from wind, while 83 percent of Texas wind turbines “were unavailable during peak demand.”

ERCOT itself continues to rate its “wind power at 8.7 percent of its installed capacity” for 2014 during the periods of highest demands, which typically occur in mid-to-late summer. For nearly 12,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, only 990 megawatts are considered reliable for forecasts computed by ERCOT for 2014. That’s like having the equivalent of 12 1,000 megawatt power plants built and only 1 online when summer energy demand spikes.

As a percentage, ERCOT figures wind to provide just 1.3 percent of the total amount of energy it needs this summer, rising to 2.2 percent by 2017 according to its own projections.

As for Colorado, under Senate Bill 252, rural cooperatives must reach 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association spokesman Lee Boughey acknowledged the rising costs of integrating ever-greater amounts of intermittent energy supplies like wind.

“As more intermittent resources are added in the region, we understand the need to address the higher costs of integrating and balancing power,” Boughey told the Denver Business Journal.

Those costs were highlighted in a March post that examined the integration of wind and other intermittent energy sources to the reliability of the grid operated by Public Service and regulated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), under the state’s preferred energy mandate:

The concern over infrastructure costs and the cost to ratepayers, as well as the challenge of incorporating ever-larger amounts of intermittent generation sources like solar and wind, is not a new topic at the PUC.

In June 2012 comments by PUC staff engineer Inez Dominguez indicated that off-peak load and wind generation in particular was “alarming.”

The integration of intermittent sources like wind would overwhelm the system, either with higher costs or decreased reliability. Bringing in wind and curtailing conventional, coal-fired generation during off-peak periods would result “in an economic penalty to the Public Service customers because more expensive wind generation would be supplying their load.”

Cutting off the wind, however, would also penalize ratepayers, as the “take or pay” agreements give wind first priority.

But the Public Service engineer also highlighted reliability concerns. “In its simplest terms as it concerns the customers, reliability deals with keeping the lights on. This reliability issue may occur when the wind suddenly stops blowing and a significant amount of wind generation is lost to the balancing authority,” Dominguez said.

“When this event happens, the balancing authority needs to replace the lost generation quickly enough to keep from tripping off the load. This means that the generation in reserve to cover such an event has to be quick enough in its response to cover the lost generation,” Dominguez continued.

For Colorado ratepayers, this backup generation comes from “gas fired combustion turbine generation reserves” that displace “more economic base load coal fired generation,” only adding to the cost, and “complexity” of the load balancing requirements.

According to Dominguez, these examples suggested a “flag that Public Service may have too much wind generation.”

Colorado’s cruel approach to energy policy

February 25, 2014 by Amy · Comments Off
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.

Should Xcel Energy be worried about high cost of electricity? Competition?

May 4, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Legislation, renewable energy 

Conventional wisdom would believe that Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) such as Xcel Energy would have lower electric rates than Rural Electric Associations (REAs) and Municipally Owned Utilities (MOUs) because IOUs have the advantage of population density that allows for maximization of capital investment.

But that is not the case as the Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities (CAMU) reports. According to CAMU’s most recent utility bill comparison survey from January 2012:

Average residential bill/cost of 700 KWh

MOU: $83.63

REA:  $92.98

IOU:  $96.92

Average small commercial bill/cost of 2,000 KWh + 10KW

MOU:  $224

REA:  $241

IOU:  $262

Average large commercial bill/cost of 45,000 KWh + 130KW

MOU: $4,613

REA:  $4,769

IOU:  $4,926

Average industrial bill/cost of 1,900,000 KWh + 3,000KW

MOU: $148,000

REA:  $140,000

IOU:  $155,000

These figures beg a couple of questions to which I don’t have definitive answers but do have very strong suspicions:

  • Would the IOUs’ bills have compared more favorably before the 30 percent renewable mandate and before the Public Utilities Commission moved away from a least cost principle?
  • Is Colorado’s largest IOU Xcel Energy worried that REAs and MOUs provide electricity at lower costs? If not, it should be. As electric rates continue to rise, businesses looking to reduce their costs may move out of Xcel service areas and into an area served by an REA or MOU. It already produces surplus electricity as it is.

The Great Solar Rip-Off: By the Numbers

April 23, 2013 by williamyeatman · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive 

According to Xcel Energy’s regulatory filings, the utility spent $275 million in ratepayer subsidies for customer-sited solar panel systems from 2008-2012.*

That breaks down to:

  • $196
    Cost of these solar subsidies for each of Xcel Energy’s 1.4 million Colorado customers.
  • .7%
    Percentage of Xcel Energy customers (approximately 9,200) that benefit from lower electricity rates by having subsidized solar panels installed on their property. Although only a fraction of 1 percent of Xcel Energy customers benefit from solar subsidies, 100% of customers pay for the cost of these subsidies.
  • $76,388
    Cost in Xcel Energy ratepayer subsidies for each of the 3,600 employees that work “throughout the value chain” of Colorado’s solar industry (job numbers are from the Solar Energy Industries Association).
  • $6,100
    Capital cost per kilowatt capacity of the solar panels subsidized by Xcel Energy ratepayers.** This compares to $2,040/kilowatt for the 750 megawatt Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant in Pueblo,*** and $1,400/kilowatt for a combined cycle natural gas plant.


*See page 1, final column of Xcel Energy, December 2012 RESA budget Report, filed 2 February 2013.
**Capacity of Xcel Energy’s distributed generation solar panel assets—44.9 megawatts—was taken from Section 2.11 of the Technical Appendix to Xcel Energy’s 2011 Electric Resource Plannb   (page 341).
***The Comanche 3 cost data is derived from following assumptions: Capital cost–$1.3 billion; and capacity 637 megawatts (85% capacity factor of 750 megawatt nameplate capacity).

Highlights and lowlights of SB252 testimony

April 9, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy 

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.”

General observations

  • 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.

Good points:

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?

Justifiably irritated:

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 Hydro Fails to Put the “New” in Renewable

April 2, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, renewable energy 

By Brandon Ratterman

Colorado is having trouble defining hydroelectricity. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers it to be a renewable resource, and the Colorado Energy Office calculates hydroelectric power’s emission rate as equal to wind and solar. Despite these two distinctions, Colorado’s renewable energy standard defines hydroelectricity as renewable only if the generating facility is newly constructed with a capacity of ten megawatts or less, or constructed before January 2005 with a capacity of thirty megawatts or less.

Colorado has 1169 megawatts (MW) of existing hydroelectric capacity. Of that total, 82 percent is generated at facilities with a capacity over 30 MW—meaning it is not “renewable” unless the facility was built in the past eight years. Unfortunately, most facilities do not meet this requirement

According to the most recently released figures, renewables other than hydro produce 9.8 percent of the total net summer electricity capacity. If the total 1169 MW of existing hydro capacity were considered renewable, hydroelectricity would contribute another 8.5 percent of capacity. Instead, only 4.8 percent of hydroelectric power is considered renewable.

Under the current format Colorado will have to fill renewable portfolio standards largely without the help of hydroelectric generation. Unfortunately, this is increasing the costs of the renewable portfolio standard.

At 11.06 cents per kilowatt-hour, Colorado ranked 21st highest nationally in average residential electricity rates according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That may not sound too bad, except that the state is well above the average for all Mountain West states. In fact, Colorado has the second highest rates in the Mountain West, just behind Nevada, which actually saw a decrease last year in its residential electric rates.

Furthermore, Colorado has higher rates than any of its neighboring states.  Outside of the East Coast, the only states with higher rates than Colorado are Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, California, Alaska and Hawaii.

As was proved in the 2012 snapshot of Colorado’s new energy economy, these high prices are due largely to lawmakers using the RPS to support the wind and solar industries. In 2012 alone Xcel Energy customers paid an extra $343 million for what ended up being mostly surplus electricity.

If high prices are the intent of Colorado’s energy policy, expect those figures to get much worse in the coming years as the state moves closer to the legislative mandate of 30 percent renewable portfolio standard, which is heavily tilted toward wind. However, if self-described environmentalists and the Colorado Energy Office truly care about the environment and economic sustainability then they should embrace hydroelectric power regardless of when it was built, but don’t hold your breath waiting.

Eco-left prepares to double down on renewable mandate

March 14, 2013 by Amy · Comments Off
Filed under: Archive, HB 1365, New Energy Economy 

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 Contact him at

Colorado's Coalition for Clean Energy Future

Next Page »