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Tilting at windmills 

City, CSU to fight clean-energy proposal

The City of Colorado Springs and its utility company will pay lobbyists to fight a proposed state law that would increase the amount of renewable energy produced in Colorado -- predominantly from wind farms -- even though the proposal would affect neither the city nor the utility.

Over the lone objection of Vice Mayor Richard Skorman, the City Council on Monday directed the city's hired lobbyists to try to defeat the proposal, which is being drafted at the state Legislature.

The bill would require privately owned utility companies in Colorado to generate more renewable energy over the next several years to decrease reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and gas. Similar bills have already been enacted in more than a dozen other states.

Next in line

Only two private utility companies operate in Colorado: Xcel, which serves the Denver area, and Aquila, which serves the Pueblo area. Neither, however, is opposing the bill, because both are already in the process of increasing their renewable-energy supplies.

The bill wouldn't affect Colorado Springs Utilities, which is owned by local ratepayers. Still, the company urged the City Council to oppose the proposed law, arguing that municipal utilities could be next in line for state requirements.

"There's no assurance that [this] wouldn't be carried over, at some point, to municipal utilities," argued Steve Berry, a spokesman for Springs Utilities. "We traditionally have not been in favor of statewide or federal mandates that dictate how we should do things here in Colorado Springs."

Opposition by the city and Springs Utilities was instrumental in defeating a similar bill introduced last year by House Speaker Lola Spradley, a Republican who was expected to also sponsor this year's bill. The local opposition helped sway two Colorado Springs lawmakers, state Sens. Ed Jones and Andy McElhany, to cast crucial votes to kill the bill in a committee hearing. The bill had cleared the House on a bipartisan vote.

Feeling the sting

At Monday's City Council meeting, Skorman asked that the city remain neutral on this year's bill. The vice mayor argued it might actually benefit Springs Utilities in the long run, because it might promote more rapid development of technology that the utility could make use of in the future, and it could make such technology cheaper.

"It just makes sense to not oppose something like this, when we're not sure if its passage might benefit us," Skorman said.

It also makes sense for Springs Utilities to diversify its energy supply, Skorman said, noting that ratepayers are feeling the sting from recent, steep gas-rate increases.

Justin Dawe, a spokesman for the group Environment Colorado, also pointed out that ratepayers would be paying for the utility company's opposition to the renewable-energy bill.

"There's a question whether it's responsible to spend ratepayer money to oppose something that won't even affect them," Dawe said. The annual salaries of the utility company's two lobbyists, Andy Colosimo and Seth Voyles, are $93,730 and $74,170, respectively. The city's lobbyist, Bob Stovall, earns $69,905.

Business as usual

Jane Ard-Smith, who chairs the Pikes Peak chapter of the Sierra Club, said the continued opposition by Springs Utilities demonstrates that the utility is "behind the curve" in energy development. She said the state's private utilities recognize that the industry as a whole is moving toward more renewable energy, noting that Xcel recently built a new wind farm near Lamar.

Springs Utilities, meanwhile, "is doing business as usual," Ard-Smith said. "They don't really keep up with what's happening in the industry."

Berry, the utility spokesman, disagreed.

"We have our own renewable strategy," Berry said. "We're looking at wind and solar and other strategies."

The utility recently abandoned plans to build a new coal plant and has requested proposals for a possible wind farm.

capsule

Colorado Springs Utilities will host the first of several public meetings to discuss a strategic plan for its electric-energy supply, from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Senior Center, 1514 N. Hancock Ave.

  • City, CSU to fight clean-energy proposal

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