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EDITORIAL: Study shows high cost of 'clean power' in Colorado

By: The Gazette editorial board
September 20, 2017 Updated: September 20, 2017 at 1:36 pm
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The sun begins to rise behind a row of wind turbines Thursday, April 14, 2016, south of Calhan, Colo. About 145 turbines cover eastern El Paso County. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Colorado efforts to fix global warming financially burden the working class and poor.

This is no longer speculation. Numbers tell the story in a new report released Saturday by the Colorado-based Independence Institute.

Colorado leads the country in renewable energy standards that force electric utilities to replace coal-fired plants with solar and wind. Voters statewide enacted higher renewable standards in 2004. Since then, the Legislature has three times raised the minimal percentage of "renewable" kilowatts produced by cooperatives and investor-owned utilities.

During that time, the report shows, electric rates throughout Colorado have increased an average of 62.1 percent. Median household incomes, which pay these costs, have increased by only 4 percent. The rate hikes are nearly double the cumulative rate of inflation.

A 62.1 percent increase in the electric bill doesn't exact serious pain on upscale households in Denver, Boulder, Aspen, Colorado Springs or other communities that heavily influence Colorado energy policies.

The report found the highest economic quintile of households spend about 5 percent of after-tax income on home energy. The lowest economic quintile of households on average spend 22 percent of after-tax incomes on energy. Some low-end households pay up to 30 percent of household income to public utilities.

Colorado's soaring electric rates cause low-income families to live with bare cupboards and disconnected utilities. In the worst cases, higher utility bills lead to evictions and foreclosures.

Don't expect this trend to end anytime soon. Gov. John Hickenlooper pledges to carry out more clean-energy mandates that were outlined in the Clean Power Plan enacted by an executive order of former President Barack Obama. The U.S. Supreme Court put Obama's plan on hold, finding it would do "irreparable" economic harm to small businesses and households. President Donald Trump rescinded the plan with a new executive order, but Colorado will forge ahead without regard for the effect on electric rates.

Obama's Clean Power Plan used Colorado's standards as a model but would impose greater mandates on top of those Colorado achieved.

Advocates of ever-increasing clean power mandates insist they won't harm low-income households, regardless of contrary evidence.

"The EPA rule can lower household electricity bills in every state covered by the rule," explains a paper by the left-leaning advocacy group Public Citizen.

The claim led the environmental magazine "Grist" to publish similar claims under the headline "No, Obama's Clean Power Plan won't raise your electric bills, no matter what conservatives say."

Public Citizen bases the claim on a belief all new mandates and the ensuing price increases will "spur" households and businesses to insulate more and embrace other energy efficiencies that will lower consumption. The group says efficiencies will more than counter prices that "will rise modestly."

"Modestly" is a relative term, but we don't consider the 62.1 percent rate hikes throughout Colorado anything in the ballpark of modest. Nor have we seen a revolutionary spurring of efficiencies and associated reductions in consumption. At least one monopolized utility countered the lower consumption of a municipality by imposing a higher "maintenance fee."

Colorado serves as a case study in renewable energy standards. The mandates might slow the state's theorized contribution to global warming. Meanwhile, we know for certain these mandates financially harm those who are least able to afford them. The numbers don't lie and must be acknowledged when we enact new standards.

The Gazette editorial board

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