Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office is expected to request on Tuesday that state budget writers approve supplemental funding for the Colorado Energy Office after the legislature hit an impasse at the end of the legislative session.
The governor’s office is asking for $3.1 million to preserve the office, which, in addition to promoting renewable energy, also assists schools, the agriculture industry and developers reduce energy costs.
While the Energy Office would be able to retain about 10 employees thanks to federal funds, another 24 staff positions are on the line.
The office would no longer operate programs that focus on agriculture, building development, and policy and research.
The governor’s office is seeking up to $3.1 million in the upcoming budget that starts in July to continue its operations. The split Joint Budget Committee is expected to be presented with the proposal on Tuesday.
Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, chairman of the JBC, said he believes the issue was addressed during the legislative session when lawmakers could not reach an agreement on continuing funding for the office. He said the question is better left for the full legislature to decide rather than the six members of the JBC.
It’s likely that the JBC will deadlock on the funding request on Tuesday, as it is split between three Democrats and three Republicans. A tie would kill the proposal.
“We objected to it being just a JBC action all the way back to the first of November when he (Hickenlooper) put it in his budget request. This is not just a budget request,” Lambert said. “There are a lot of questions over how is the money being used and a lot of what we consider unnecessary regulations and things that are restricting the energy industry.”
“A bill having failed, I just don’t think it’s the right process for the JBC to come back and fund something that did not make it through the legislative process. I’m quite concerned about that. It’s bad precedent,” said Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, a member of the JBC. “On the other hand, I’m not opposed to the idea of an energy office, I’m voting against the process.”
The third Republican member of the JBC, Sen. Kevin Lundburg of Berthoud, has already expressed concerns with the Colorado Energy Office and is likely to oppose the funding request.
The governor’s office believes that it has an obligation to request supplemental funding because it was “unforeseen” that the legislature would not act on maintaining funding. Supplementals are authorized for several reasons, one of which includes “unforeseen” events.
“The governor has agreed that he is open to a process where we re-examine the mission of the Colorado Energy Office to make sure it includes ‘all of the above’ energy – all forms,” said a Hickenlooper spokeswoman. “He has received encouragement that the office could be funded through the JBC for the current year while that process goes forward.”
Lambert, however, does not believe an “unforeseen” event took place, pointing out that the legislature debated the subject this year, though it was unable to reach a resolution on the last day of the legislative session.
Funding would have been included in the 57-page Senate Bill 301, which would have provided the $3.1 million while also doing away with certain programs. It was supported by Hickenlooper’s Energy Office.
The Republican-controlled Senate had included provisions that would have made changes to a host of renewable energy and other programs in the state, including eliminating some of those programs. The Senate version would have expanded the Colorado Energy Office’s focus to include nuclear and hydropower, while giving the oil and gas industry a greater voice.
It also focused heavily on natural gas, aiming at eliminating a prohibition on investor-owned utilities owning natural gas reserves. An investor-owned utility is owned by private investors and members. The legislation would have directed 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.
A provision of the legislation also would have raised registration fees for electric vehicles, which had some Democratic lawmakers concerned.
Democrats approved a trimmed bill, which would have continued funding for the Colorado Energy Office, but it also would have stripped many of the provisions stemming from the Senate.
The discussion became bogged down in politics, especially following a home explosion in Firestone in April linked to natural gas leaking from an old pipeline. The incident killed two men. Republicans and Democrats could not find enough common ground to advance the bill in the split legislature.
“That was the situation we were put in, either we adhere to the Senate position or recede to the House position, and that was just unacceptable,” Lambert said. “Maybe next year we can try again.”
… what other state agencies might have a similarly freewheeling approach with the public’s checkbook. So surmises conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics.
ColoradoPolitics.com’s Peter Marcus reported earlier this week on a state audit that found none of the $1.9 million in incentives awarded to film projects shot in Colorado had met all the criteria for the subsidies. Marcus writes that the audit “identified $129,000 for projects that did not qualify for incentives and another $1.8 million for projects for which the Office of Film, Television, and Media ‘lacked documentation to substantiate they qualified.'”
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Some of targets are repeat offenders and invite follow-up scrutiny by the lights of Republicans and conservatives. For example, Health Care Policy and Financing (you may know it as “HickPuff”; no relation to the guv), which manages Medicaid for the state; Peak notes a 2016 audit found some Medicaid recipients were ineligible but not removed from the rolls.
And then there’s the Energy Office, much unloved by Republicans who are ever wary of the office’s original green-energy-promoting mandate. Peak observes:
This is the office that lost like $200 million a few years ago. The state auditor just finished up an audit in January, but for the love of God, you lose $200 million, you should be audited always.
According to her blog post, that was supposed to have been accomplished during the regular 2017 session that concluded last week. The vehicle, Cooke writes, was going to be an amendment inserted into a bill introduced late in the game, Senate Bill 301, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction.
On its face, that bill involved a sweeping reconfiguration of the much-debated Colorado Energy Office and also included a provision that would have permitted investor-owned utilities to own natural gas reserves. The bill got mired in late-session politics and was scuttled in the end amid tit-for-tat pushing and shoving between Scott’s Republican-run Senate and the Democratic-controlled House.
So, the special session would pick up where the originally intended effort left off, Cooke writes. SB 301’s natural gas provision was the tip of the iceberg, she seems to think:
Sources tell me that Governor John Hickenlooper really wants the state legislature to anoint in statute Xcel’s big plans for industrial wind, and he is trying to get the oil and gas industry to support it as well, likely because natural gas is the preferred back-up generation for industrial wind.
“… this language blesses Xcel to build and majority own industrial wind and natural gas back up, build and own all of the infrastructure, and pass all the costs along to ratepayers. It would complete the process of converting Xcel from pig to hog status.
Cooke, who is the libertarian-leaning institute’s executive V.P. and heads its Energy Policy Center, is a frequent critic of Minneapolis-based Xcel and other investor-owned public utilities given their status as regulated monopolies. Independence and other critics of the system don’t like how it uses Public Utilities Commission-granted rate hikes in part to subsidize the transition to what the critics contend are costlier alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.
We reached out to Hickenlooper Press Secretary Jacque Montgomery for a comment on Cooke’s assertions. She followed up with this response — neither a confirmation nor an explicit denial:
The Governor has shared what his top issues are when considering a special session: infrastructure and health care. At his end-of-session news conference, he called out these as well as the funding for the energy office.
Gov. John Hickenlooper hadn’t yet decided on Monday whether to call a special session to come up with more funding for the state’s transportation needs, among other topics he said were left unfinished in the General Assembly’s 120-day regular session.
The Colorado Energy Office will be crippled after lawmakers on the last day of the session on Wednesday were unable to agree to a measure that would have continued full funding for it.
In its original form, Senate Bill 301 – described by Republicans as “far-reaching” – would have maintained funding for the Colorado Energy Office, while restructuring it and doing away with certain programs. It was supported by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Energy Office.
Without the full funding – about $3.1 million – the office will see significant cuts in personnel, deeply cutting into its ability to provide core environmental and energy services.
The Republican-controlled Senate had included provisions that would have made changes to a host of renewable energy and other programs in the state, including eliminating some of those programs.
The Senate version would have expanded the Colorado Energy Office’s focus to include nuclear and hydropower, while giving the oil and gas industry a greater voice at the table.
It also focused heavily on natural gas, aiming at eliminating a prohibition on investor-owned utilities owning natural gas reserves. Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said the prohibition raises costs for consumers.
An investor-owned utility is owned by private investors and members. The legislation would have directed 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.
A provision of the legislation also would have raised registration fees for electric vehicles, which had some Democratic lawmakers concerned.
When the original 57-page bill made it to the Democratic-controlled House – a measure that was introduced in the final days of the session and died on the last day of the session – Democrats approved a trimmed bill, which would have continued funding for the Colorado Energy Office, but also would have stripped many of the provisions stemming from the Senate.
“Losing the office would have been a disaster for Colorado. So rather than lose it, or lard up the reauthorization with giveaways to the oil and gas industry, we passed a clean bill,” said House Democratic Leader KC Becker of Boulder, just prior to the Senate rejecting the House’s version of the bill.
The discussion became bogged down in politics, especially following a recent home explosion in Firestone linked to natural gas leaking from an old pipeline. The incident killed two men.
Knowing that the Energy Office would be significantly reduced by rejecting the House version of the bill, Scott responded, “It’s their choice now,” referring to House Democrats.
Becker responded, “This late bill included sweeping changes to energy policy and concessions to the oil and gas industry, many of which I could not support. Mixing these new changes in with the work of the Energy Office turned the bill into something that was untenable.”
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.”
Citing her work with traditional and renewable energy, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Kathleen Staks executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, effective Jan. 20. She will replace Jeff Ackermann, who was recently appointed to the Public Utilities Commission.
Gov. John Hickenlooper and state Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, say the process is already in motion to launch Senate confirmation hearings for the governor’s two recent appointees to the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
Grantham seems to be looking forward to it. “I think we’ll do it sooner rather than later,” he told The Colorado Statesman. “It’s going to be interesting.”
The PUC has become a politics headline maker in recent years, routinely drawing the eyes of lobbyists, activists and op-ed writers as it weighs how best to serve the public interest when regulating the state’s energy, water, transportation and telecommunications industries.
Hickenlooper two weeks ago announced the appointments to the three-member commission. Jeff Ackermann and Wendy Moser will take up positions vacated by Josh Epel and Glenn Vaad.
Ackermann most recently served as the Colorado Energy Office’s executive director. Before that, he was chief researcher for the PUC.
Moser was senior manager at Charter Communications, what the Wall Street Journal called a telecommunications”behemoth” after it bought Time Warner Cable in May for roughly $60 billion. Moser has also worked for Black Hills, the Colorado power company that has made headlines for the steep rates it charges Pueblo-area residents. Moser specialized in regulatory law and government relations.
The Colorado Springs Gazette last week described the selections as a “disappointment.” The paper characterized Ackermann as a bureaucrat and renewable energy champion, and Moser as an executive whose perspective has been shaped by defending corporate interests. The editorial writer argued the two would likely fail to effectively champion consumer rights.
At the Capitol this week, where the legislative session got underway, there also has been grumbling about Moser.
“I have had some consumer advocates express concern,” said Sen. Irene Aquilar, D-Denver. “The feeling is that we should take a close look and see if there’s a conflict of interest there.”
Aguilar served on an interim legislative task force this past fall that explored how to improve the state’s 9-1-1 emergency service, which has struggled to keep pace with the digital era. Mobile and internet-based emergency services have suffered increasing blackouts and long outage periods in vast rural and mountainous areas of the state. Past legislation aimed at addressing the issues centered on allowing the PUC to regulate 9-1-1 service. Telecommunications companies marshaled their army of lobbyists to limit PUC interference. Lawmakers across party lines were torn on the issue.
Hallway grumbling about Moser brings to mind what Grantham called the “strange circumstance” tied to the appointment to the PUC three years ago of Vaad. By “strange,” Grantham seemed to mean rare and a little surprising. He chuckled slightly at the memory.
Hickenlooper’s recent appointments took effect January 9, Monday of the week the legislative session opened. As is typical, Ackermann and Moser have been serving on the PUC while they await confirmation. That’s how Vaad was serving, too, except he served three years unconfirmed. In fact, his resignation, effective January 8, saved Hickenlooper from continuing a dance he had been doing with the state Senate since 2014.
The Vaad appointment drew an intense opposition campaign spearheaded by clean-energy advocates who saw Vaad, a former Republican lawmaker, as a champion of fossil fuel industry interests who might actively work against the interests of the state’s growing renewable energy sector. Members of the Senate received thousands of protest emails and phone calls opposing his confirmation.
As it happened, then-Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, never put the Vaad confirmation hearing on the chamber calendar. The appointment was read into the Senate record as the second-to-last order of business on May 7th, the last day of the 2014 legislative session. Hickenlooper then, for legal reasons, simply reappointed Vaad the day after the session adjourned.
And so it went. There was no messy Senate hearing. No Senate floor vote was ever taken under Democratic or Republican Senate leadership on the Vaad appointment. And now he’s gone.
“That was a lesson,” said Aguilar. “These commissioners can actually serve without being confirmed.”
That’s not going to happen this year, said Grantham.
“The appointments haven’t been read across the desk yet, but they will be,” he said. “We’re just now getting into the nitty-gritty this session. The two of them will get a grilling.”
He added that he believed the appointees were “clearly qualified.”
“The governor wants to make sure his appointments get confirmed,” he said. “He wouldn’t pick people that would have us all up in arms. That would be bad for us and bad for him and bad for the appointees.”
Hickenlooper’s office played down concerns.
“Both nominations have been made and sent to the Senate for confirmation,” the office wrote in response to questions. “The governor evaluated many candidates for the PUC. His nomination of Moser and Ackerman is indicative of their strong professional experience, subject matter expertise, and extensive knowledge of telecommunications and utilities, as well as their knowledge of the PUC’s responsibility to ratepayers.”
Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, has watched the PUC closely in recent years as it plays referee between Xcel Energy and Boulder, which is working to create its own clean-energy powered municipal utility.
“I think they’re both really good choices, very thoughtful. They understand the PUC and they understand the issues they’ll be considering,” Fenberg said. “I think there’s a healthy mix of interests and expertise among the members.”
Fenberg said it’s “not an inherently bad thing” that commissioners come from industry and have experience advocating for certain interests.
“The PUC is a complicated body. Most members of the public aren’t familiar with it and don’t know how it works,” he said. “It’s important to know how it works. For me, the most important thing is that they are smart people who know what they’re doing, and that they’re fair and follow the rules and processes.”
Aguilar said that, at this point, she thinks the confirmation process will be “fairly pro forma.”
“I think he’d only bring nominees he’s fairly sure will be confirmed.”
Which is not to say the confirmation requirement doesn’t work to watchdog appointments, she explained.
“There have been times when the governor has been told ‘Hey, this would be a difficult confirmation hearing,’ and then he appoints someone else. So, like so many things at the Capitol, the requirement for the confirmation does have an impact, even if perhaps not as publicly as it could have. In the case of clear conflict, the governor might withdraw the appointee’s name.”
The confirmation will likely begin with a vote in the Senate’s Business, Labor, and Technology Committee. Democratic committee members include Sens. Angela Williams and Andy Kerr, both of whom have made telecommunications issues a specialty and generally have non-adversarial relationships with industry.
Jeff Ackermann and Wendy Moser are Gov. John Hickenlooper’s news appointees to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The three-member panel regulates utilities and tries to maintain reasonable prices, as well as overseeing taxis and ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. That sounded like good news to Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, the […]
Colorado public interest, environmental and public health organizations have called upon the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to use funds from the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal to support a transition to a zero-emission transportation future.
At issue is $61.3 million Colorado will receive between 2017 and 2027 from a settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Volkswagen related to the company’s violation of emission control laws in more than half a million vehicles.