Op-Ed: Affordable electricity in danger by Senate Bill 13-252
April 30, 2013
The job of the local board and employees of Mountain Parks Electric cooperative is to deliver electricity that is safe, reliable, and affordable. But Mountain Parks' ability to provide affordable electricity is seriously in danger by Senate Bill 13-252, which is moving through the Colorado Legislature on a fast track.
Introduced on April 8, SB13-252 — which has already passed the Senate by a 17-16 vote on April 12 — would direct Mountain Parks' power supplier Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association to generate 25 percent of the electricity it sells in Colorado from renewable resources (i.e. solar and wind). The current law requires 10 percent renewable by 2020.
All of us want clean air. To that end, Tri-State has 30 million watts of solar power at Cimarron, N.M. With 500,000 solar panels, this was the largest in North America when it was constructed in 2011.
Tri-State also has 159 million watts of wind turbine generators. The newest, in northeast Colorado's Logan County, can serve the equivalent power needs of Mountain Parks' entire customer load.
These renewable resources can only operate intermittently. Solar is available about 22 percent of the year (due to nighttime and winter), and wind is 45 percent available (mostly at night, when electrical demand is low). Therefore, the renewable generators have to have back-up capacity ready to quick-start when needed. Typically, the reserves are natural-gas-fired turbine generators.
The point is, we have to invest in twice the amount of capacity — which shows up on electric bills — to have reliable supply.
The SB13-252 requirement for 25 percent renewable is estimated to cost Tri-State Colorado customers an additional 20 percent on electric bills. To Mountain Parks, this equates to about $6.4 million per year, which will come out of the local economies in Grand, Jackson, Summit, Routt and Larimer counties. To the average Mountain Parks residential member, the cost increase will be about $15 per month or $180 per year. We do not believe this to be fair or affordable. Colorado cooperative customers will bear costs of $3 to $4 billion if this bill passes.
The investor-owned utilities, like Xcel Energy (headquartered in Minneapolis), are motivated to earn profits for their shareholders. When they provide renewable resources, they are allowed to mark up the cost in order to gain their returns. Cooperatives, like Mountain Parks and Tri-State, are motivated to provide power to our member-owners at rates that are affordable.
As the Colorado legislative session draws to a close, the legislative leadership is pushing SB13-252 through along partisan political lines. Sponsored by Senate President John Morse and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, Front Range legislators are uncomfortable voting against their own leaders.
The bill is opposed by the Rural Economic Action Alliance, the Colorado Rural Electric Association, the Colorado Consumer Coalition and Western Slope's Club 20. Major newspapers, including The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Pueblo Chieftain have editorialized against the bill.
If you are concerned and want to get involved, Mountain Parks encourages you to contact local representation. You may do so by utilizing the Colorado Rural Electric Association's "Take Action Network" at http://www.keepelectricityaffordable.org.
This is a most serious matter, which threatens our already struggling rural economies.
Joe Pandy is the general manager of Mountain Parks Electric; Greg Norwick is president of the Mountain Parks Electric board of directors.