Colorado energy bill fuels storm of controversy

Colorado is on the way to more renewable energy, but that ride is fueling a storm of controversy from groups in the state. John Hickenlooper, governor of Colorado, signed the Renewable Energy Standard Retail Wholesale Methane Act, SB13-252, into law June 5. This bill mandates that some electrical producers in the state, mostly in rural areas, produce 20 percent of their energy supplies from renewable sources by 2020.

Since that time, a storm of controversy, which had already been brewing, has boiled over concerning the mandate. The battle over renewable energy in Colorado has been a long-fought one. The Sierra Club organized 2,500 people to support the bill, helping to get the measure passed into law.

"Opponents spent millions of dollars to spread misinformation about renewable energy. You may have heard the negative TV and radio ads; but in the end, they weren't enough. Coloradans want more clean energy and this bill is a step in that direction," Anna Zawisza, programs director for the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, said.

Groups opposed to the new law believe that the new measure imposes a double standard on electric producers in rural and urban areas. While electrical production in the countryside would be subject to the new 20 percent standard, urban energy manufacturers would be allowed to remain at the current 10 percent mark for renewables.

"Now we're changing the standard on them, we're changing the rules mid-stream and that's not fair," Mark Waller, Republican House Minority Leader from Colorado, said.

While supporters of the new law claim that the mandates will encourage growth of wind and solar farms in rural areas, boasting employment in those areas, others disagree. A report by Management Information Services, a Washington think tank, estimated the move would cost between two and four billion dollars to implement. The Alliance for Sustainable Colorado calculates that costs for retail customers will only increase an average of two dollars a month.

John Salazar, the state's commissioner of Agriculture, delivered a letter to the governor, signed by several agricultural groups around Colorado, expressing concerns that the mandate will raise the price of food.

The new law also defines wind and solar power as renewable energy, but not hydroelectric power, which is used more often in rural areas.

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