Colorado legislators representing predominantly urban and suburban areas narrowly defeated an effort by their rural counterparts to soften the state’s renewable power mandates.
Retained by a Single Vote
The Democrat-controlled Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee rejected by a single vote a bill to undo stricter renewable power mandates enacted in 2013. Democrats control both the Colorado Senate and the Military Affairs Committee by a single vote, and the committee voted along party lines.
The high-profile effort to scuttle the once-popular program is seen as a sign the once popular renewable power mandates could be facing strong headwinds in the years to come. Just last year, the state legislature voted to strengthen the mandates, but now the program’s supporters are playing defense rather than offense. In addition, Democrats face a difficult challenge keeping their Senate majority in the November 2014 elections.
Colorado is one of 30 states with renewable power mandates. Colorado’s mandates are a two-tiered system, under which the state’s investor-owned utilities must meet a stricter standard than electric cooperatives. Xcel Energy, by far Colorado’s largest utility, is required to supply 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Prior to 2013, electric cooperatives had to supply 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Last year, the legislature raised the requirement for cooperatives from 10 percent to 20 percent.
Rising Electricity Prices
Since Colorado voters approved the renewable power mandates in a referendum in 2004, legislators have ratcheted up the law’s requirements three times: in 2007, 2010, and 2013.
Like other states that have imposed renewable power mandates, Colorado is experiencing electricity prices rising much faster than the national average. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data show Colorado electricity prices have risen 20 percent faster than the national average since 2004. Since 2007, Colorado electricity prices have risen nearly three times the national average—27 percent compared with the national average of 10 percent. James M. Taylor, a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, presented the EIA data in an article for Forbes.com.
According to the Forbes.com article, the average Colorado household has already paid an additional $2,100 in electricity bills (more than $350 per household per year) beyond what each household would have paid if the state’s electricity prices had risen merely at the same rate as the national average since 2007.
Momentum Favors Rollback
Efforts in Colorado and other states to roll back renewable power mandates appear to reflect growing anxiety over how the law is eating away consumers’ disposable income.
“Renewable electricity mandates unavoidably increase the cost of power to homes, businesses, schools, and anyone else needing power,” said Daniel Simmons, director of state policy at the Institute for Energy Research. “Legislators are taking notice.”
Coloradans narrowed the Democratic Senate majority to a single vote in 2013 in two special elections that recalled from office ardent supporters of renewable power mandates. Legislation tightening Colorado’s gun-control laws triggered the recall campaigns, but the unsuccessful efforts of Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron to keep their seats weren’t helped by their constituents’ dissatisfaction with the senators’ high-profile support for ever-harsher renewable power mandates.
In 2013, several state legislatures considered bills to repeal or soften their respective renewable power mandates. None of the bills passed, but the rollback efforts appear to be gaining momentum. Legislators in Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and several other states are already working to launch rollback efforts in 2014. Even in more politically liberal states like Washington, legislators have held hearings this year on the costs of renewable power subsidies and mandates.
“State legislators will continue their attempts to reduce these unnecessary financial burdens on residential and commercial ratepayers,” Simmons predicted. “As the growing costs of these ill-considered policies become increasingly clear, efforts will continue to either freeze, reduce, or even repeal these mandates altogether.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
“Colorado Bill Would Roll Back Renewable Mandates As Prices Soar,” Forbes.com, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2014/01/15/colorado-bill-would-roll-back-renewable-mandates-as-prices-soar/