Peter Marcus, The Colorado Statesmen | Posted: December 14, 2012
State lawmakers on Thursday outlined an extensive legislative agenda related to energy for the upcoming session that begins on Jan. 9. The legislature is likely to address establishing a renewable thermal standard, incentivizing so-called “green” construction and capturing methane gas, increasing the value for diseased trees to be used as fuel, accelerating the use of alternative fuels for state fleets, and establishing a clean energy commercial building program.
Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, and Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, unveiled their ambitious agenda at a Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce panel discussion at IHS’ global headquarters in Englewood. IHS is an information company that includes energy consulting.
“I have two years left,” Schwartz told The Colorado Statesman following the meeting. “And also, now that we have both chambers, I think instead of watching legislation come out of the House that was simply trying to dismantle our goals in the state that we had put in place with the New Energy Economy, I think we can move forward and broaden those conversations to a broader proposal of clean energy, and that does include a whole spectrum of resources.”
Democrats took back control of the House and retained the Senate following the November election, offering an opportunity for them to push an agenda that focuses on renewable energy and cutting fossil fuels. Much of that work started under former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration, who coined the term New Energy Economy. But Schwartz and Tyler say there is more to be done.
The legislators are shooting for a renewable thermal standard of 1.5 percent, which the lawmakers hope can be accomplished through a “small, modest” fee on natural gas customers. The fee would be about 1 cent per therm, and would be modeled similar to the electric side, which includes a 2 percent renewable energy fee on all electric customers.
The renewables fee has helped the state to nearly reach its goal of requiring utilities to get 30 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Tyler and Schwartz sponsored the legislation in 2010 that raised the standard from 20 percent. The following year, Republicans attempted to lower the standard, but their attempt failed.
Colorado voters in 2004 backed Amendment 37, which imposed a 10 percent renewable standard on all utilities. In 2007, the legislature raised it to 20 percent.
Schwartz believes Coloradans want a separate renewable thermal standard, or RTS. It would integrate thermal technologies, including solar thermal, geothermal and biomass into public policy.
“It is a very, very modest fee on that. And so the question is, if you look at the surveys that are done in the state of Colorado, and over 70 percent of the people in this state support renewable energy generation, and this simply is alignment with that,” explained Schwartz.
“If you look at your electric bill, it’s not the 2 percent that’s expensive,” she continued. “What we’re paying is for the utility infrastructure, and all of those costs for the resources are totally on the backs of the customers.”
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who also sat on the panel hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, did not seem too intrigued by the proposal. Brophy said he is more focused on the economy than climate change.
“I guess I’m a little more concerned that there are fiscal challenges than I am about carbon dioxide production in the United States,” Brophy told the audience.
He appeared to have the support of Tom Clark, chief executive of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, an affiliate of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Clark questioned the impact of climate change to begin with, suggesting that it may not be as dire as some make it out to be.
“It’s a challenge for us because of these precipitous jumps in CO2 levels in the atmosphere — I’m not sure what they’re going to do to us long term — but obviously they’re up significantly,” said Clark.
But Tyler said the impact of climate change is not debatable: “I have a little disagreement with my friend Tom over here when he says maybe CO2 is going to be a problem… CO2 is going to be a serious problem.”
Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, who also sat on the panel, cautioned against any extreme positions on climate change and reducing fossil fuel exploration.
“What I find interesting is that we’ve become kind of an extreme on every level,” said Scott. “We have to be extreme solar, extreme wind, extreme oil, extreme gas. But all we seem to be doing is clouding the issue, and we’re not really getting anything accomplished.”
Tracee Bentley, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s associate director for policy and legislation at the Colorado Energy Office, said the state is taking an all-of-the-above approach to energy policy.
“When it comes to renewable energy… we shouldn’t say we have enough renewable energy, we’re done there. That just doesn’t make sense,” said Bentley.
Schwartz said she is still working out the details of many of her other energy proposals, but they include:
• Incentives for eco-friendly architecture by 2030, noting that the so-called “built environment” consumes 60 percent of energy;
• Addressing the state’s forest health by helping create value for small diameter and diseased trees in order to expand biomass as fuel;
• Expanding and defining alternative fuels for state fleets;
• Incentivizing the capture of methane from coal mining; and
• Establishing a commercial property assessed clean energy, or PACE, financing for energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy.