‘Far-reaching’ energy legislation advances in Colorado legislature

Lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a measure that would maintain funding for the Colorado Energy Office, while restructuring it and doing away with certain programs.

Senate Bill 301 – a 57-page bill introduced in the waning days of the legislative session – is supported by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Energy Office, though some environmental interests and Democrats believe the legislation wouldn’t help the state.

The bill passed on a 6-5 party-line vote, with Republicans pushing the measure on to the Senate Finance Committee. Without the funding, the Energy Office would be eliminated.

Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, the sponsor of the legislation, said his main focus is on bolstering natural gas in the state. The bill would eliminate a prohibition on investor-owned utilities owning natural gas reserves. Scott said the prohibition raises costs for consumers.

An investor-owned utility is owned by private investors and members. The legislation would direct the state to create rules allowing an investor-owned utility to acquire an interest in Colorado-based natural gas reserves for up to 50 percent of its needs.

“The problem with any type of an energy bill under this wonderful dome is it gets twisted, turned, flopped, flipped, into ideological discussions, and it’s difficult for all of us, especially in a split building as we are,” Scott said. “This bill is truly about a little molecule called natural gas and storing some of it for the future use of consumers and holding the darn prices down for the ratepayers.”

But the bill also would make changes to a host of renewable energy and other programs in the state. It would eliminate the Wind for Schools Grant Program, which was established in 2007 by federal dollars to provide grants to public schools and community colleges for wind generation projects.

Similarly, the bill would eliminate the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for Schools Program, which provides school districts with loans for renewables and efficiency projects.

Senate Bill 301 also would eliminate the Green Building Incentive Pilot Program, which was established to incentivize making energy efficiency improvements.

The legislation would expand the Colorado Energy Office’s focus to include nuclear and hydropower, while giving the oil and gas industry a greater voice at the table.

“We cannot just wholly strike these programs without a more balanced and thorough review of where we can make the office more lean,” said Theresa Conley, advocacy director for Conservation Colorado, which opposed the bill.

A provision of the legislation also would raise registration fees for electric vehicles, which had some lawmakers concerned.

“I know that my constituents did not send me down here to increase taxes and fees. Every time we do that, I hear about it,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.

The Colorado Energy Office supports the bill because it believes many of the programs overseen by the office have grown outdated.

“These programs are ones that have actually been successful in the past,” said Kathleen Staks, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office. “That certainly doesn’t mean that the intent and original purpose for these programs were not important, but we have implemented other programs since then.”

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