In a March 4 editorial about renewable energy legislation, The Gazette of Colorado Springs lauded a rural electric co-operative for "say[ing] that command-and-control energy policy isn't right for its customers." But the editorial ignored reports that scores of the co-operative's customers support renewable energy initiatives and oppose the utility's position on such measures.
A March 4 editorial in The Gazette of Colorado Springs criticizing Colorado Springs Utilities' (CSU) decision not to fight legislation proposing renewable energy mandates praised the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) for "say[ing] that command-and-control energy policy isn't right for its customers." The Gazette, however, ignored reporting that hundreds of IREA's customers formed a group to oppose the association's moves to cloud the public debate about global warming and have protested the co-op's stance against renewable energy initiatives, as noted in a February 23 Rocky Mountain News article.
The "new renewable energy mandates" The Gazette criticized in the editorial presumably were those presented in House Bill 1281. According to the News article, 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 voters passed in November 2004." The bill also would establish a renewable energy standard of 10 percent by 2020 for cooperative electric associations such as IREA.
Noting that The Gazette "urged City Council and CSU to take a stand against state meddling and at least approach CSU ratepayers about opting out," the editorial asserted, "[T]here's never an end to it once regulators' appetites are whetted." The Gazette editorial called the IREA "courageous enough to draw a line in the sand and say that command-and-control energy policy isn't right for its customers," and then stated, "Rather than stand with IREA and voice dissent, CSU chose to cut backroom deals."
However, The Gazette editorial neglected to mention that "scores of Intermountain customers say they support renewable energy and that the co-op is ignoring their voices," as the News reported. According to the News:
Tensions heightened between a rural electric co-operative and hundreds of its customers Thursday over a bill that doubles Colorado's goal for electricity from renewable resources.
Dozens of Intermountain Rural Electric Association customers belonging to a group called IREA Voices turned out at the state Capitol to oppose the electric provider's stance against House Bill 1281.
Intermountain wants to opt out of the bill, saying most of its customers likely are against the bill since an overwhelming majority of customers voted in a 2005 election to opt out of Amendment 37 over concerns that their electric bills would rise. Although the amendment passed statewide, it included a provision allowing rural co-ops to opt out.
But scores of Intermountain customers say they support renewable energy and that the co-op is ignoring their voices. A couple of hundred customers formed IREA Voices in August to air their complaints when the co-op spent $100,000 to hire Patrick Michaels, a global warming skeptic, as a consultant.
In its editorial, The Gazette also failed to mention IREA's controversial funding of Michaels, a prominent critic of certain widely accepted scientific views on global warming. As Colorado Media Matters noted, IREA general manager Stanley Lewandowski, in a July 17, 2006, memo, called upon member utilities to "support the scientific community that is willing to stand up against" global warming "alarmists." The memo also reported that IREA "contributed $100,000" to Michaels. As the News reported on August 3, 2006, Lewandowski came "under fire from scientists and co-op members" because of Michaels' hiring. The News further noted that some IREA members said Lewandowski "overstepped his authority" in hiring Michaels.
From the editorial "Duck and cover: Utility should be fighting renewable mandates," in the March 4 edition of The Gazette of Colorado Springs:
Because lobbyists have been able to negotiate it a break, Colorado Springs Utilities has basically thrown in the towel on fighting the new renewable energy mandates moving through the Legislature. The surrender comes with the tacit approval of the City Council/Utilities Board, which seems to fear that standing against the mandates, and in defense of a utility's right to make these decisions for itself, will make it look less-than-progressive.
This passivity might be explained away as a bow to necessity, since the mandates seem all but inevitable, save for one thing. If CSU and the board believe this will be the end of the push for even more mandates, they are fooling themselves. So whatever reprieve they've been able to negotiate probably will be short-lived.
A dire assessment? Perhaps. But it's an assessment based on a review of recent history. When Colorado voters foolishly approved Amendment 37 in late 2004, CSU, rather than fight the 10-percent mandate on principle and practicality, tried to make lemonade out of lemons. Because they were able to negotiate a break which would allow small hydropower plants to be counted against the targets, they decided against exercising an opt-out clause.
We urged City Council and CSU to take a stand against state meddling and at least approach CSU ratepayers about opting out. El Paso County voted overwhelmingly against Amendment 37, after all, so the chances were good that CSU customers, if presented with the facts and options, would have voted themselves out. Instead, CSU and the board went along with the program, hoping the shadow had passed.
But there's never an end to it once regulators' appetites are whetted. And so, only two years into the Amendment 37 experiment, before the true costs or consequences of meeting the mandates have even been tested, the lobbying is on for a doubling of these standards, to 20 percent by 2020. This sounds simple, but actually demands a 10-fold increase in renewable energy generation, given that only about 2 percent of the state's power comes from renewables now (depending on how one defines them). And it's wishful thinking to believe this will be the end of it.
At least one utility in Colorado, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, has been courageous enough to draw a line in the sand and say that command-and-control energy policy isn't right for its customers. The co-op's customers voted themselves out of the Amendment 37 standards and might do the same with these, if they have the chance. But Democrats are working hard at closing off escape routes and have voted down an Amendment 37-style opt-out clause.
Rather than stand with IREA and voice dissent, CSU chose to cut backroom deals. That CSU is willing to see these mandates imposed on other utilities, as long as it gets a (probably temporary) break, seems slightly mercenary. If utilities don't hang together, they'll surely hang separately. Sometimes fighting on matters of principle has practical benefits as well.