A bill requiring rural electric cooperatives to use more renewable energy sources is
on its way to the State House. Senate Bill 252 narrowly passed the senate earlier this month, over objections by rural republicans and some cooperatives.
The legislation would increase the amount of renewables, like wind and solar, coops must use from the current 10 percent standard to 25 percent. If it passed, these electric groups would have to meet that mark by 2020. Lee Boughey of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association says that's a difficult target.
"It is very difficult for utilities, especially cooperative utilities to be able to move forward to have a 150 percent increase in the standard in the same time frame," he says.
Tri-State is a wholesale power supplier for eighteen cooperatives in Colorado, from Gunnison and Montrose to the eastern plains.
Since the bill was introduced in early April, they’ve been focused on publicly opposing it, through testimony at capitol hearings, radio commercials and television spots.
Boughey says the bill could cost Tri-State and its member coops up to $4 billion over the next two decades.
"The costs are significant because it’s not just the costs of additional renewable energy, but it’s also the cost of new transmission lines that will need to be constructed to get energy to load, and the cost of new natural gas power plants to be able to balance renewable energy and back it up when necessary,"
Senator Gail Schwartz, a democrat from Snowmass Village, is a primary sponsor of the bill. She says the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, has already exceeded the new renewable energy standard laid out in the bill.
"Currently excel is at about 26 percent, they have spent $575 million to meet a 20 percent renewable standard. I just don’t believe it’s going to take $4 billion to do that," Schwartz says.
Another part of the bill requires rural coops to get a certain amount of renewables from Colorado sources. Schwartz says this opens the door for new jobs.
The bill would also classify the capture of methane from mines and landfills as a renewable resource. Right now, the harmful gas is being converted into electricity at a unique power plant at a coal mine in Somerset. Holy Cross Energy, the rural coop that serves the Roaring Fork Valley, is using that source. It’s on track to be 25 percent renewable earlier than 2020.
Senate bill 252 heads to the House Transportation and Energy Committee next. Then it will be heard by the entire house.