A bill that would have used no taxpayer money to study the economic impact of a renewable energy feed-in tariff was killed by Colorado House Republicans
In what a friend in attendance called a "no-brainer" in an email to me on Wednesday, the Colorado House Committee on Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources voted to indefinitely postpone House Bill 1228, a bill that would have explored the economic impact of distributed generation of renewable energy in the state. The real "no-brainer" part of the decision is that the study would have been entirely funded by donations, gifts and grants from interested parties.
"We had real strong testimony today, but unfortunately the bill just got killed by the republicans," wrote my friend, who preferred to remain anonymous, in a hastily-penned email after Wednesday hearing. "It was a no-brainer," he continued, "It appears that all legislators are voting party line these days. The lobbyists are getting to them more than ever. It appears that big business rules, and the people are considered last."
Introduced by State Senator Gail Schwartz (D-5) and Representatives Edward Vigil (D-62) and Tom Massey (R-60), the bill, officially known as HB 11-1228 (pdf), would have commission a study by an independent entity funded entirely by outside money to look at the value of distributed renewable energy generation. In particular, and what may have seeded the bill's demise, the study would have looked at the impact of a feed-in tariff (FiT) on economic growth, cost to utilities and ratepayers, and benefits to farmers, ranchers and retirees.
A feed-in tariff requires utilities to pay a fixed, above-market rate to any party that puts electricity generated by renewable sources back on the grid, thus incentivizing distributed renewable energy generation of all shapes and sizes, and encouraging homeowners, farmers and businesses to invest in small to medium-scale renewable energy development.
But even though the bill would have cost nothing to taxpayers and its supporters steered clear of the loaded and misunderstood language of a "feed-in tariff", preferring instead to use the alternative, "Clean Local Energy Accessible Now" (CLEAN), to describe the policy, Colorado House Republicans sided in favor of entrenched electric utility and co-op interests to put a rest to any talk of distributed generation.
Although they didn't mount much of a public campaign opposing the measure, the state's largest utility, Xcel Energy, has come out in opposition to feed-in tariffs, by any name, in the past, as was pointed out in a recent piece at Renewable Energy World. The article cites an Xcel Energy representative at a 2009 renewable energy conference in Minneapolis as saying, "the honest truth is we earn our returns by building plants and putting them into rate base and making profits on them." A feed-in tariff, the Xcel representative continued, "takes away that opportunity of utilities to earn on their investments."
Whether the feed-in tariff, which was single-handedly responsible for making Germany the world's leader in installed solar photovoltaic capacity, will ever take hold in the U.S. is still a matter of debate. Policy diffusion takes time, and there is a period of softening and learning that must occur before an idea like this can take root and gather support. And though this state-level study was defeated yesterday, my gut tells me this won't be the last we've heard about a FiT, CLEAN, or whatever you want to call it, in the state of Colorado.
Because if any state is ripe for small to medium-scale distributed renewable energy generation, it is this purple state with its vast solar, wind and biogas resources that are just waiting to be tapped.