Wiggling out 

Colorado Springs Utilities balks at new law mandating clean energy

Colorado's new law requiring power companies to incorporate cleaner energy over the next decade passed without the help of voters in El Paso County.

Now, Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera and other members of City Council say that justifies asking the city's coal-dominated utility to scrutinize every detail of the initiative for a way out.

"I don't like being subject to [Public Utilities Commission] oversight and the citizens of this county voted against it," Mayor Rivera said during an informal meeting of the council on Nov. 22.

Added Councilwoman Margaret Radford, "I'm just cranky about this whole thing."

Ironically, the city earlier this year lobbied heavily against a law in the Legislature that would have required renewable energy in other parts of the state -- although Colorado Springs would have been exempted. That proposal failed, which led to the launch of the successful statewide initiative that now mandates Colorado Springs Utilities incorporate renewables.

And it appears that wiggling out of the law that was passed by 53 percent of the state's voters on Nov. 2 will be exceedingly difficult for CSU, officials concede. As such, the utility has been quietly shopping for renewable energy, hopeful to negotiate a deal for wind power and small-scale hydroelectric power in coming months.

Rachel Beck, a spokeswoman for the utility, said the purchases would give the utility a shot at incorporating the amendment's first hurdle -- a requirement that 3 percent of the utility's energy come from renewable sources by 2007.

"We would be two-thirds the way to that first goal," Beck said.

By 2015, the utility is required to derive at least 10 percent of its energy from solar, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal and/or biomass sources.

Supporters hail the amendment as a way to cut pollution and spark a renewable energy industry in rural Colorado, while reducing reliance on fossil fuels amid rising prices like the $21 a month average residential increase approved a week ago by City Council. The amendment played no role in that rate increase.

Right now, just 1 percent or less of the energy the utility provides is considered renewable.

"CSU is one of the lagging utilities in terms of renewables," said Justin Dawe, an energy advocate for Environment Colorado, which backed the amendment.

With roughly 2 percent of its power coming from renewables, Xcel Energy, the state's largest energy provider, is behind as well. Despite the company's zealous opposition to the initiative leading up to the election, Xcel spokeswoman Margarita Alarcon said the utility is ready to respect voters' wishes.

"We're obliged by law to do that," she said.

The company scrutinized the amendment's so-called "loopholes" -- actually escape clauses written in to the amendment -- but concluded they were too arduous. Instead, Xcel will "fast-track" wind projects, hoping to bring the company into compliance several years ahead of schedule, Alarcon said.

Could be a wild card

Colorado Springs so far lacks a strategy for legally challenging the amendment, but hasn't given up.

The amendment allows utilities to hold a vote among ratepayers if they want to opt out. But CSU concedes such a vote would be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct, even though 55 percent of El Paso County voters opposed the new law. Besides the utility having to pay for the vote, only those who pay utility bills would be allowed to cast ballots, Beck said.

"If you have more than one person in a home, how can that be a fair vote?" she said. "We don't know."

The city is also exploring other legal options, including participating in a PUC study that is analyzing the wording of the newly passed law. The PUC regulates rates and services around the state, but not for CSU.

Alarcon of Xcel says the PUC process could be a wild card.

"A lot happens behind the scenes," she said.

But Stephanie Bonin, an energy advocate for Environment Colorado, doesn't expect the PUC to overrule the "will of the voters." She also questioned the value of CSU's fight to get out of the amendment's requirements.

"Instead of spending all the brain power on looking for ways out, it might be better if the city sat down and really worked to achieve the goals," she said.

-- Dan Wilcock contributed to this story.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Local News

More by Michael de Yoanna

  • To hell and back

    To hell and back

    Jim Sheeler emerges from a world of wartime loss with a new book and a plea
    • May 8, 2008
  • Bad will at Goodwill?

    Bad will at Goodwill?

    Fired gay employee files discrimination complaint with state officials
    • May 1, 2008
  • Illegal motion?

    With lawsuit, opponents aim to squelch Army expansion
    • Apr 24, 2008
  • More »

All content © Copyright 2019, The Colorado Springs Independent

Website powered by Foundation