Peter Blake

Suddenly, backers of renewable energy bill seek "consensus"

A camel is a horse designed by a committee, they say. It’s only fair, then, to turn the tables and ask what a committee designed by a camel might look like.

Very much like the odd group created by Gov.John Hickenlooper to study the feasibility and consumer protections, such as they are, of Senate Bill 252. That was the measure pushed through the legislature this year by urban Democrats that will drive up the electric rates paid by rural Coloradans. It requires rural electric associations to boost their use of some forms of renewable energy from the current 10 percent to 20 percent by 2020.

The committee is supposed to take some of the sting out of the bill, which was called a “war on rural Colorado” by its critics. The bill is “imperfect,” Hickenlooper said in his executive order, especially the tight timetable and the “consumer protections.”

In that way the committee fits right in with Hickenlooper’s both-sides-now theme, siding with Democrats on the most controversial issues but trying to throw a sop to Republicans at the same time.

— The committee, which grew from eight to 11 members with a second executive order, has voting and nonvoting members, but apparently has decided not to vote but to work on a “consensus” basis, whatever that means.

— It seems to be an ex post facto interim committee, working to fix legislation after it is passed instead of preparing legislation in advance, which is how interim committees have traditionally operated.

— Instead of governing itself, as most committees do, with a chairmen and vice chairman, it has been given a “facilitator” from the Keystone Center, whose professed mission is to resolve “national policy conflicts.” The facilitator is none other than Christine Scanlan, who recently was named head of the center after serving three years as the governor’s legislative lobbyist. Her role seems to resemble that of the “minders” who used to accompany reporters touring communist countries.

It is officially called the Governor’s Advisory Committee to the Director of the Colorado Energy Office on the Effectiveness of SB-13-252 — or, as its handy acronym would have it, GACDCEOE-252. The office director is Jeff Ackerman.

Membership includes representatives from Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which provides most REAs with electricity; the rural electric associations’ trade group; agriculture; livestock production; irrigation production and, on the other side, representatives from the renewable energy industry, the nonprofit environmental advocacy community and organizations specializing in electric resource planning.

The group first met July 10 and will meet again Aug. 7. The minutes from the last meeting and the agenda for the next one will soon be available, said Keystone spokeswoman Julie Shapiro.

But informal notes were taken during the first meeting, which was open to the public, and they reflect some peculiar maneuverings.

It would seem that the opponents of 252 might outnumber the advocates, which might explain the minority’s desire to work on consensus rather than by votes. One of those pushing consensus was Pete Maysmith, leader of Conservation Colorado, which was heavily involved in the drafting and lobbying of SB 252. Consensus, he said, would lead to a better exchange of ideas and the free flow of information.

Consensus, in other words, means that unless everyone on the committee agrees to a certain approach, it won’t be officially recommended to the legislature, the energy office or the governor. You can bet that Maysmith wouldn’t have favored the consensus process in the legislative committees that helped turn the bill into law.

Appointing a committee to study and comment on the bill after it was passed is reminiscent of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s infamous remark about ObamaCare: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.”

That’s the “Ready! Fire! Aim!” style of legislating, now devolving from Congress to the state legislatures.

Mike Kopp, the former Senate minority leader who represents Intermountain REA on the 252 committee, objected to the leaderless, consensus style of management and urged the election of a chair, vice chair and voting rules. He was hoping for support from colleagues at Tri-State and the REA association, and was disappointed when he didn’t get it.

Geoff Hier, who represented the REA’s association, said by way of explanation, “We could see the handwriting on the wall; we were kind of in the minority.”

Hickenlooper’s both-sides-now approach has also manifested itself in his decision to postpone indefinitely the execution of murderer Nathan Dunlap instead of granting clemency, kicking that can down the road to his successor.

And by his recent decision to announce his support for this fall’s billion-dollar tax hike initiative to a private group after ducking the question in public forums.

As for the real purpose of the 252 committee, Kopp suggested it was “to create cover for the governor.” We’ll see how that works out.

Meanwhile, the REAs who don’t like 252 can ponder the error of their ways when they promoted the 10 percent mandate back in 2007. Apparently they were trying to look public spirited. But once they permitted the legislature to set policy for what had been self-governing co-ops owned by members, it was only a matter of time until the legislature upped the ante.

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at pblake0705@comcast.net You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com

 



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