Boulder CRES Town Hall - 2018 Renewable Legislation

I attended the January meeting of the Boulder chapter of Colorado Renewable Energy Society. The guest speakers for the evening were Representative K.C. Becker and Senator Steve Fenberg, who discussed their renewable-focused legislative agenda for 2018 and provided some helpful insight into the mechanics of the statehouse.

As a general disclaimer, the Colorado legislature follows the general norms of Democrats supporting renewable energy/proactive climate change policy and Republicans supporting incumbent oil/gas and coal infrastructure. There are a few Libertarians who support renewables for economic or freedom-of-choice reasons, but in an unpredictable way.

The 2018 session begins today, January 10. Because Rep. Becker’s Dems hold the majority in the House (37/27), the bulk of the agenda will originate in there. A subtlety of the Colorado legislature is that all bills must go before a committee, but it does not have to be the logical committee (Senator Fenberg mentioned a mental health bill he reviewed last session as part of the State, Veterans Military Affairs committee.) Thus, the majority does not guarantee a bill will even make it to the floor, but it is more likely in the House.

Here is a rundown of a few of the bills planned for this year, some of which are a retread of failed bills from last session, others of which are still in the early planning stages.

  • Reauthorization of the Colorado Energy Office, which is currently limping along on a federal grant. This initiative failed last session but expect it to reappear early.
  • Develop a framework for utilities to work directly with individual cities to help them meet announced 100% renewable goals. (Aside: I asked specifically about Xcel’s tactic to shift renewable capacity to cities with these goals at the expense of surrounding communities and Rep. Becker assured me this would be taken into account in the bill.)
  • Some sort of target for carbon reduction, probably with reference to 2005 levels (reduction is TBD) by 2030.
  • Direct the governor to do impact assessment for the state should we not begin to address climate change.
  • Set 100% renewable target for the state.
  • Provide legislative guidance to the PUC to consider energy storage as a viable “source” (I realize storage is not really a source, but it is for the purposes of this review.)
  • Remove roadblocks created by utilities that currently prevent deployment of behind-the-meter energy storage. This bill can be used as a framework for the PUC, which has this issue on its docket for rule-making.
  • Provide funding to deploy more EV charging stations and possibly begin to allow utilities to rate-base EV charging.
  • Reduce or eliminate EV tax credit (this will likely come out of the Republican side of the senate.)
  • Securitization of utility capital, which would help finance the transition to renewable energy and offset revenue and tax losses to communities affected by retirement of fossil fuel generation resources (this failed last year, but will probably make a return in some form.)
  • Some efforts to improve fracking and pipeline safety, reduce force-pooling, and address orphan wells.
  • Severance tax reform – this is a tax upon extracted resources like natural gas. The Supreme Court ruled that Colorado had overcharged O&G companies, leading to a mandatory refund that essentially bankrupted the Department of Natural Resources. Expect to see a bill to reform the rebate exemptions for the tax (which is 5%).

Other items of note included an announcement that Rep. Becker is creating a Select Committee on Climate in the House. Rep. Becker also provided some perspective of how different levers of our society work together to institute change. For example, a bill in the house last year to remove 600 MW of coal energy from Xcel’s generation failed, but gave Xcel enough of a mandate to petition the PUC (public utility commission) to exchange 600 MW of coal for 1200 MW of wind and solar. In addition, the House is planning to account for some of the scope of the Clean Power Plan and other environmental regulations that have been rolled back at the federal level over the last year.

Becker and Fenberg closed with some advice on how individual citizens can have an impact on renewable adoption. The first is to vote, and vote down-ticket. In particular, the attorney general, Cynthia Coffman is up for reelection. She has a firmly pro-oil-and-gastrack record, including launching suits to stop the Clean Power Plan and fight Boulder County’s moratorium on new oil and gas development. Another recommendation was to show up. Show up at the capital when key bills are being debated. Show up at the PUC on February 1 when it will be determined if some of Xcel’s coal generation will be retired (specifically Comanche 1 & 2.)

2018 looks to be a big year for getting renewable bills on the docket in Colorado, though both Becker and Fenberg warned that few would make it to law. However, I did leave with a feeling of hopefulness and purpose that our elected officials are taking renewable integration seriously and that I (and you) can make a difference.