Peter Marcus, DDN Staff Writer
Two Colorado citizens have proposed a ballot initiative that would allow utility customers to vote on whether to opt out of the state’s renewable energy standard.
As Gov. Bill Ritter was signing a bill on Monday that raised the state’s renewable energy standard to 30 percent by 2020, Parker resident Bob Kennedy and Greeley resident Kent Overturf prepared to introduce a ballot proposal on Wednesday to Legislative Legal Council that would allow utility customers to submit a petition requesting an election among customers on whether to opt out of the state’s renewable energy standard.
Customers would need to gather 5 percent of all customers’ signatures for the utility to hold a mail-in election on whether to opt out of the standard. A majority of customers would need to vote to opt out for the utility to provide the exemption.
Backed by the Denver-based Western Tradition Partnership, a conservative group dedicated to Western issues, the petition aims at protecting customers from higher utility rates as companies increase their renewable energy portfolios, according to proponents.
“In this economy, families should have the right to buy less expensive electricity,” Dan Fuchs, director of government relations for the Western Tradition Partnership and a former Montana state lawmaker, said in a statement. “It comes down to one question Ń who controls your family budget, you or the political class?”
Proponents call such renewable energy standards unfair government mandates. They say technology is not advanced enough to make renewables an affordable option for consumers.
But Colorado voters have backed renewable energy standards in the past. In 2004, voters approved Amendment 37, an initiative in which utilities were required to achieve a 10 percent standard by 2015. Xcel met that standard by 2007. Ritter later successfully pushed lawmakers to double that standard within his first 100 days of office.
This year, Democrats pushed for an even higher standard, rasing it to 30 percent, despite Republican objection.
Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, pointed out that Amendment 37 protects consumers from skyrocketing rates by setting a 2 percent cap on increasing rates for renewable energy standards. There is also the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel, which Dreyer points out is charged with representing the public before the Public Utilities Commission.
“It seems this proposal is unnecessary,” said Dreyer. “We have a number of mechanisms that are protecting rate payers right now while we are moving to a New Energy Economy and a clean energy economy.”
Dreyer said it is “ironic” that proponents of the proposed initiative are stressing possible rate increases associated with renewable energy standards while Xcel Energy is raising rates to pay for opening a new coal-fired power plant in Pueblo.
Environmental groups also criticized proponents for the initiative. Pam Kiely, legislative director for Environment Colorado, said proponents are living in the past if they don’t believe renewable energy is worthwhile.
“These initiatives must have been drafted by the Colorado chapter of the Flat Earth Society,” she quipped. “Colorado has already proven that the New Energy Economy works Ń we can grow good new jobs, jumpstart our economy and clean up our environment all at the same time. The choice is ours Ń we can either win the race to clean energy innovation in the 21st century, or we can turn the clock back.”