Thursday, March 27, 2008

Energy Efficiency Bill Hits Senate Roadblock

A bill that would require most of the state's municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives to set aside some of their revenues to fund energy conservation efforts was derailed, at least temporarily, in a Senate committee Wednesday.

HB 1107 applies to municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives that have at least 5,000 customers. The bill specifies that those entities would have to dedicate one percent of their revenues in 2009 and two percent of revenues in succeeding years to programs aimed at encouraging their customers to use less electricity.

A similar requirement affecting Colorado's investor-owned utilities, such as Excel, is already in effect. The General Assembly mandated such programs for the IOUs in 2007.

During Wednesday's hearing before the State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee, Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, succeeded in amending the bill to limit its applicability to rural electric cooperatives with more than 85,000 members. Romer's amendment entirely removed the municipal utilities from the mandate in the bill.

However, the committee then voted 2-2 on the bill. Without a majority of the five-member committee voting to send it to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill is in limbo.

According to a report by John Ingold in the Denver Post's Colorado Capitol Insider blog, committee chair Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said he worries about the impact of the bill on utility rates for lower-income families but that he would keep an open mind about moving the measure out of committee.

According to the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, the bill would inject about $32 million per year into energy conservation programs around the state, resulting in a reduction of electricity use by 1.5 billion kilowatt-hours (KwH) by 2020, an amount equivalent to the annual use of electricity by 170,000 average Colorado households. Colorado residential and business utility consumers would save $600 million in electricity rates between 2008 and 2020.

The bill was approved by the House, 33-32, on Feb. 27. It was sponsored in the House by Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver.