Rocky article on IREA objection to renewable energy mandate omitted co-op's controversial funding of global warming critic

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The Rocky Mountain News reported on the Intermountain Rural Electric Association's (IREA) objections to a bill that would set a standard for the amount of power Colorado cooperatives must generate from renewable sources. However, the article did not note that IREA has funded a longtime critic of global warming.

A Februrary 20 article in the Rocky Mountain News about the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) position on legislation that would require Colorado utilities and cooperatives to increase the amount of power they generate from renewable sources failed to note IREA's controversial funding of Patrick J. Michaels, a prominent critic of widely accepted scientific views on global warming.

House Bill 1281, which unanimously passed the Colorado House Transportation and Energy Committee on February 13, would establish a renewable energy standard for cooperative electric associations such as IREA of 10 percent by 2020. The bill also would raise the existing standard for electric utilities, established by the 2004 passage of ballot measure Amendment 37, to 20 percent renewable sources by 2020. The News article by Gargi Chakrabarty quoted IREA general manager Stanley Lewandowski's view that HB 1281 should contain a provision, such as the one in Amendment 37, that would allow an electricity generator to opt-out of the requirement if its customers oppose it:

The Intermountain Rural Electric Association wants to opt out of House Bill 1281 because it believes a majority of its customers don't support it -- much like the customers voted to opt out of Amendment 37 over concerns of a rate increase on their electric bills.

HB 1281 would require Colorado utilities to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources (sun, wind, plants and animal waste) by 2020 -- double the goal of 10 percent by 2015 that was set by Amendment 37, which was passed by voters in November 2004. Customers eventually would pay the cost incurred by utilities to comply with the renewable standards.

The rural co-op, one of the state's largest electric co-operatives with 125,000 customers, wants the bill's language either to accept the opt-out vote by its customers in November 2005 or allow for new elections.

Intermountain's opposition is a concern, said Gov. Bill Ritter's spokesman, Evan Dreyer. Ritter, who supports the bill, addressed the state's rural electric co-ops Monday at the Hyatt hotel in Denver.

Stanley Lewandowski, spokesman for Intermountain, said the co-op is not looking for a veto. Instead, it wants an amendment that would allow it to opt out.

"Our position is, when Amendment 37 was voted upon, 42,000 of our 53,000 customers who cast ballots had voted to exclude us," Lewandowski said. "We believe those elections should be grandfathered."

Despite the News' previous reporting, the February 20 article omitted mention of IREA's efforts to cloud the scientific consensus that the production of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming. Increased reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar would reduce carbon dioxide emissions. As Colorado Media Matters noted, in a July 17, 2006, memo, Lewandowski called upon member utilities to "support the scientific community that is willing to stand up against" global warming "alarmists." The memo reported that IREA "contributed $100,000" to Patrick J. Michaels, a prominent critic of many widely held scientific views on global warming. The News on August 3, 2006, reported that Lewandowski "is coming under fire from scientists and co-op members" because of Michaels' hiring, noting that some IREA members said Lewandowski "overstepped his authority" in hiring Michaels.

Colorado Media Matters previously noted that a January 3 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified Michaels as a climate change "contrarian" affiliated with groups funded by multinational petroleum giant Exxon Mobil Corp. to "manufacture uncertainty on the issue" of global warming. According to the report's Executive Summary:

Many of these organizations have an overlapping -- sometimes identical -- collection of spokespeople serving as staff, board members, and scientific advisors. By publishing and republishing the non-peer-reviewed works of a small group of scientific spokespeople, ExxonMobil-funded organizations have propped up and amplified work that has been discredited by reputable climate scientists.

The report stated that "Michaels has ... been affiliated with at least ten organizations funded by ExxonMobil," as noted in an accompanying table:

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