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May 20, 2013 8:45 PM by Andy Koen

Debate grows over renewable energy bill

CALHAN - A strong effort is underway to sway governor John Hickenlooper into either signing or vetoing a new renewable energy bill.

Senate Bill 13-252 mandates rural electric cooperatives produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources by the year 2020. Previous standards required the co-ops to produce just 10 percent by that same deadline.

The accelerated timetable will likely mean expensive capital improvements for the non-profit co-ops. Ratepayers like George Schubert, a sod farmer in Calhan, worry they will end up footing the bill for the legislature's mandate.

"It's going to hurt," Schubert said.

His family has been farming and ranching on a 4,000 acre property south east of Ellicott since just after World War Two.

Schubert taps into wells in Black Squirrel Creek Basin for irrigation, but uses electric pumps to draw out the water. Those pumps have been working overtime recently because of the drought.

"Last year our electric bill during the summer months was running right at $14,000 a month."

In fact, Schubert says a higher electric bill will ultimately force him to move away from sod farming altogether.

"Several years ago we had up to 15 employees. Today I think were down to 7 and I hate to say this but if it gets bad and we shut the wells off, there'll be two of us."

The bill was sponsored by Senate President John Morse, (D) Colorado Springs. He says it will benefit Colorado farmers and ranchers by bringing down the cost of electricity over the long run.

"The governor's senior staff came to me and asked me to carry this bill," Morse explained. "This bill is good for rural Colorado, it's good for all of Colorado, it's good for jobs, it's good for clean air."

Morse says the forced investment in wind farms will create short term job growth as the wind mills are installed.

He also points out that the co-ops are prohibited from charging customers like Schubert more than a two percent increase to pay for the renewable energy addition.

Kent Singer, Executive Director of the Colorado Colorado Rural Electric Association, says two percent isn't enough to cover the capital costs.

"By the time that you start having to integrate these resources you're very likely to exceed two percent cost and we just don't think the rate cap will be effective," Singer said.

He says Morse and the Democrats in state legislature limited testimony on the bill just 8 hours in each chamber. He feels as though the concerns of the co-ops were just ignored.

"One of our concerns was that we were not consulted at all about this and did not see a draft of the bill until the day it was introduced."

Morse disagrees. He says the co-ops can very easily increase their renewable portfolio by purchasing credits. He believes the co-ops have opposed renewable energy standards ever since voters passed Amendment 37 in 2004.

"This conversation has been going on for a long time, they were opposed to it then, they're opposed to it now," Morse said.

The co-ops have been running advertisements urging a veto. Hickenlooper met last week with representatives from both the wind turbine manufacturer Vestas with Tri-States Generation and Transmission, the power company that supplies electricity to the co-ops. He hasn't yet publicly indicated what he'll do.

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