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Last March, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D) signed HB 1001, a mandate requiring investor-owned utilities to generate 30 percent of their electricity sales from renewable energy sources by 2020. The policy, known as a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), is the crown jewel of the Governor’s “New Energy Economy” agenda and the renewable energy model for the rest of America.
Governor Ritter boasted in a prepared statement, “Colorado is giving every state and the entire nation a template for tomorrow. This is a game-changer. We are transforming the future of Colorado and our country.” HB 1001 author State Rep. Max Tyler (D-Golden) wrote, “[R]equiring a third of our power to come from renewable sources is a great example of doing well by doing good. We will cut our carbon footprint, stabilize or even lower our energy costs, and remove pollutants from our air.”
If all this seems too good to be true, that is because it is. Critics charge that renewable energy is expensive, and the facts seem to be on their side. According to the federal Energy Information Administration’s projection of future electricity costs, in 2016 wind power will be nearly 50 percent more expensive than coal and nearly 80 percent more expensive than natural gas. Thermal solar generation is projected to be 150 percent more expensive than coal, and 200 percent more expensive than gas.
Proponents of HB 1001, however, claim that the law ensures that costs stay low. But all that means is that Colorado’s RES sets price controls as well as production quotas. HB 1001 limits the retail impact to 2 percent annually, which led Governor Ritter to brag in The Denver Post, “The legislation (HB 1001) also provides a statutory framework that will not increase cost to consumers.”
Rep. Tyler dismissed accusations that his legislation would raise the cost utility bills. “That’s absolutely wrong,” he told The Colorado Independent, “there’s a 2 percent cap.” But Tyler went even further when he implied that wind and solar are “free” sources of energy, “The sun will always shine for free, the winds will always blow for free, and our energy production will be cleaner.”
It is not the source, but converting that source to energy that costs money. While it’s impossible to know exactly how much the RES will cost Coloradans, we do know that 2 percent will be only a fraction of Coloradans’ green energy bill.