Renewable energy may be a popular catch phrase along Colorado’s urban Front Range, but it has turned into fighting words across much of rural Colorado. Not because rural communities are against it, to the extent it makes economic sense, but because they’re about to be force-fed an overdose by state Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.
Morse’s jobs-killing SB252 would dramatically increase the amount of solar and other renewable energy that would have to be used by rural electric cooperative associations. Those are the small nonprofit utilities that provide power to most of Colorado’s plains, mountain and agricultural communities — including the local communities of Woodland Park, Divide, Falcon, Peyton and Calhan.
The cooperatives — along with small businesses and residents that depend on them — have pleaded with lawmakers to back off, noting they already live under a mandate to acquire 10 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. Morse’s measure, pushed by activists in the green lobby, would ratchet up that mandate to 20 percent and impose great hardship on schools, businesses and families.
That 100 percent hike would cost rural Coloradans a bundle in higher utility bills and would fall on them a lot harder than do similar mandates that apply to the utilities serving the state’s metropolitan areas. That’s in large part because the rural electric co-ops are mostly small and function a lot like credit unions, which means they don’t take a profit for investors but rather plow all of their revenue back into infrastructure and keeping rates low. Neither they nor their customers can afford to absorb a rate hike.
So far, appeals for moderation have fallen on deaf ears. SB 252 appears to be riding a runaway train driven by fanatical environmental zeal rather than common-sense economics. Having already cleared the state Senate, the measure was on its way to approval by the full House as of Friday afternoon.
It may fall to Gov. John Hickenlooper — who is pro business and pro school — to apply the brakes. While his Democratic Party controls both chambers of the General Assembly — and too often is captive to the narrow agenda of green extremists — the governor typically displays a broader and wiser view on energy issues.
As a highly successful entrepreneur from his days before politics, he also possesses a much better grasp of the need to weigh costs and benefits in the marketplace.
The leading forms of renewable energy represent emerging technologies with substantial potential. And great strides have been made toward improving their efficiency. Rural regions in particular have embraced aspects of the new energy economy, hosting solar arrays and wind farms and championing other renewable sources like bio-fuels.
Yet, Morse’s arbitrary, Draconian mandate is the wrong way to advance these new technologies and expand their use. Cracking the whip on bantamweight nonprofit rural utilities — which already struggle — will backfire on the hard-pressed consumers of our state’s economically fragile rural regions.
We’ve learned to expect this kind of tone-deafness from Morse. His disregard for the best interests of his own community is well-established. So, it’s hardly surprising to see him thumb rural Coloradans in the eye on the premise that it’s for their own good.
Morse aside, the Capitol has long been viewed warily by rural residents who see most legislators as out-of-touch urbanites who habitually ignore the concerns of farm and ranch communities.
This latest Morse outrage presents an opportunity for our sensible governor to earn newfound credibility in places like Punkin Center and Divide. If the legislative majority doesn’t have the good sense to stop this John Morse attack on rural communities, we hope the governor goes for his veto pen.
Wayne Laugesen is editorial page editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette, where this op-ed originally appeared