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EDITORIAL: Governor backs off 'clean power' order

By: The Gazette editorial board
January 12, 2017 Updated: January 12, 2017 at 8:25 am
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Coloradans who struggle to pay bills received good news Wednesday, when Gov. John Hickenlooper officially abandoned his plan to impose higher “clean power” mandates by executive order.

“I think the response — the pushback — from the executive order was so intense that the potential benefits were outweighed by the collateral damage,” Hickenlooper told reporters Tuesday night, in advance of the Colorado Legislature’s 2017 opening day.

Hickenlooper’s talk of higher energy standards by fiat came in August, six months after the Supreme Court of the United States put President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan on hold. The court, days before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, ruled the plan posed “irreparable harm” to states and their residents.

To see the “irreparable harm,” look to Colorado. It has some of the highest clean power standards in the country. We don’t mean look to Aspen, Vail and Boulder, where typical residents can easily absorb substantial utility hikes to combat global warming hypothesis. We’re talking about Pueblo and other less star-studded communities in which working-class households struggle to make ends meet.

Clean power mandates have raised utility bills to the point middle- and lower-income families are choosing between mortgage payments, utility costs and food. Dozens of Pueblo residents, many in tears, explained their collective plight to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission last summer at a meeting in which hundreds of residents showed up to protest the latest Black Hills Energy rate increase to help pay for clean power.

Colorado’s experience with clean power mandates predates Obama’s presidency by eight years. Voters initiated renewable energy standards in 2004, and the Legislature subsequently raised the renewables standard three times. HB10-1001 requires investor-owned utilities to generate 30 percent of power from renewables by 2020. SB 13-252 requires cooperative utilities to generate
20 percent from renewables.

The mandates force power companies to build windmill farms and solar arrays. Some utilities are decommissioning and replacing coal-fired electric plants their customers already paid for.

Obama’s mandates would have given Colorado little credit for progress already made toward renewables. It would have required carbon reductions based on our state’s 2012 emissions. It would have ratcheted up expenses Coloradans already incur. That’s one reason Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined other state attorneys general in suing to stop the president’s plan.

Hickenlooper’s talk of an executive order to counter the court-ordered reprieve naturally caused objection. “Pushback” was the sound of exasperation among those who see or suffer the hardship.
Hickenlooper rightly cares about clean power. His threat of more clean mandates-by-fiat was based in good intentions. We applaud him for listening to his critics and rethinking the order.

Society benefits by harnessing the sun and wind and other forces of nature. In addition to reducing emissions, renewables broaden, diversify and stabilize our country’s energy-producing assets. For that reason, the needs of consumers and producers will continue our progress in the right direction at a speed we can afford. We don’t need more costly mandates from on high, and the governor has listened.

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