EnergyGovernorLegislatureNews

A year later, Colorado Energy Office one step closer to reauthorization

Author: Marianne Goodland - April 11, 2018 - Updated: April 23, 2018

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Colorado Energy OfficeIn this undated photo, a employee at the Vestas plant just south of Pueblo, Colo., works among the giant iron cylinders used in the manufacture of the company’s wind towers. (John Jaques/The Pueblo Chieftain via AP)

What a difference a year makes: On Wednesday the House Transportation & Energy Committee gave near-unanimous support to reauthorizing the Colorado Energy Office (CEO).

The CEO, which is housed in the governor’s office, was the subject of a heated debate last year. Ultimately the bill failed in a power struggle between Senate Republicans, who wanted to support more traditional forms of energy, and House Democrats, who wanted the office to retain its focus on renewable energy.

This year’s bill, Senate Bill 3, couldn’t have had a smoother path through the General Assembly, although it has taken close to three months to get to its first House hearing.

If you haven’t heard the phrase “all of the above,” you heard it a lot, both back in January and in Wednesday’s hearing.

It refers to a slight change in the CEO’s mission: to ensure the office pays attention to all energy sources, including oil and gas, coal and nuclear.

But it’s that last source — nuclear — that had a couple of Democrats on the transportation committee scratching their heads.

Colorado’s last nuclear power plan, the St. Vrain plant near Platteville in Weld County, operated for just 10 years and was shuttered in 1989 due to high costs.

When the energy office was first authorized in statute in 2012, according to Rep. Jon Becker, nuclear was included as a research option. The Fort Morgan Republican carried that bill in the 2012 session along with then-Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver. The bill didn’t specifically mention nuclear energy, although it did direct the energy office to “promote robust research, development, commercialization and financing of innovative energy technologies.”

The Colorado Energy Office started out in 2007 as the governor’s energy office, authorized by then-Gov. Bill Ritter. The office had a singular mission: to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. It was authorized in statute in 2012 with a new name — the Colorado Energy Office — and with a revised mission to encourage all sources of energy development.

The 2017 version intended to be an all-encompassing rewrite of the state’s energy statutes. The bill was introduced with just two weeks left in the 2017 session. By the time the bill got through the House, Democrats gutted it to just a reauthorization of the energy office, a change to which Senate Republicans objected. That left the office without its funding for 2017-18. After the session ended, Gov. John Hickenlooper asked the Joint Budget Committee to cover the office’s operating budget, at about $3.1 million, a request the JBC rejected on a party-line 3-3 vote.

The office maintained its funding and staff of about two dozen through an available federal loan for the 2017-18 budget year, according to the governor’s office.

This year’s bill is much more like the House version of the 2017 bill: a clean reauthorization of the energy office without all the bells and whistles from 2017.

Republican Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan and Democratic Rep. Chris Hansen of Denver told the House Transportation Committee that the 2018 bill removes a couple of obsolete programs and adds hydropower and nuclear as energy development targets. This bill is “an update that reflects the priorities of the state and gets us back on track for funding the office,” at around $3.2 million in general fund dollars, Hansen said. It allows the office “to continue their great work in our all-of-the-above energy state,” added Becker.

The two programs eliminated in the bill — a wind for schools grant program and a renewable energy loan program, also for schools — have been mothballed for years. The wind program shut down because of an affiliated federal program went away in 2013. Kathleen Staks, the office’s executive director, told lawmakers the renewable energy loan program, authorized in 2009, never had a single applicant in its nine-year lifespan.

The office’s $3.2 million budget is already included in the 2018-19 state budget.

The inclusion of nuclear energy drew raised eyebrows among a couple of committee members, who pointed out Colorado hasn’t been in the nuclear business for years. Hansen said it was included at the request of its Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, although there are no current plans for nuclear power generation in the state. Maybe in 10 or 20 years, the technology may be there, he added.

Democratic Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo noted her community banded together several years ago to reject a nuclear power plan. She called inclusion of nuclear energy a “sticking point” and was one of two committee members to vote against the bill. “This is a huge deal for my constituents,” she said.

Senate Bill 3 now heads to the full House for debate.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.