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The 2015 Legislative Session: CREA Forges Bipartisan Solutions

There has been a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on with respect to the just-completed 2015 session of the Colorado general assembly. Many commentators have employed phrases like “partisan stalemate” and “legislative logjam” to describe the current environment in which Republicans have a majority in the state senate and Democrats are in control of the state house of representatives. The implication is that the 2015 legislature was a “do-nothing” body that was rendered impotent by partisan wrangling.

That was not CREA’s experience in 2015. While it’s certainly true that many bills passed through one chamber only to meet their maker in the other chamber, CREA was able to find a path through both houses on several bills that we supported in 2015. Not only were we able to move our own bill, SB 15-046, through the process, but we were also instrumental in the passage HB 15-1377 and HB 15-1364. These bills made common sense amendments to the Colorado renewable energy standard and the laws governing small hydropower facilities to give electric co-ops more flexibility in complying with our obligations under the renewable energy mandates.

These outcomes did not occur by happenstance, but were the result of the hard work of our dedicated lobbying team.  Geoff, Jeani and Heather worked countless hours with legislators and stakeholders to explain our issues and find solutions that could be supported by both Democrats and Republicans. We are very grateful to the many legislators that helped us this session, particularly Senators Grantham (R-Canon City) and Donovan (D-Vail) and Representative Moreno (D-Commerce City) who were the prime sponsors of SB 15-046.

On a bittersweet note, we are saying goodbye to our friend and colleague Jeani Frickey, our contract lobbyist who will be heading to greener pastures as the Executive Director of Stand for Children. Jeani has been a tireless supporter of Colorado’s electric co-ops and a tremendous asset to our government relations team for many years. We wish Jeani the best in her new endeavor; her knowledge of our program and her boundless enthusiasm will be missed!

We want to thank the CREA board for its direction of our efforts in 2015, and we’ll try to keep the (properly inflated) ball rolling in 2016 as well…

IDEA SHARING: CREA EnergyWise Group Designed to Bring EE Options to Co-op Members

BY KENT SINGER, CREA Executive Director

The sixth cooperative principle, under which all of Colorado’s electric co-ops operate, is “cooperation among cooperatives.” You see, cooperatives, electric and otherwise, serve their members most effectively by working together.

That’s what the Colorado Rural Electric Association’s member coops are doing under the EnergyWise banner as they work to bring more and better energy efficiency programs to their member-owners. Energy efficiency is nothing new for electric co-ops, which have always promoted ways to help you save money on your power bill. As not-for-profit utilities, electric co-ops are not big corporations motivated by making money for investors, but locally-owned utilities dedicated to providing reliable electricity at an affordable price.

As part of this effort, we at CREA created the EnergyWise Project a couple of years ago. Through this initiative, we are encouraging and facilitating energy efficiency efforts in electric co-op service territory, and we are helping our co-ops publicize information on programs they offer their members and ways their members can save energy and money. Every electric co-op in the state promotes energy efficiency and other cost-saving measures. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize what kind of rebates are offered and the types of projects the co-ops are involved in. We probably don’t do enough to tell the world about our energy efficiency work, so we are using the EnergyWise banner to brand these efforts and get the word out.

Our first substantive project under the EnergyWise label last spring involved a partnership between CREA, four of our members and the Colorado Energy Office. As a result of this partnership, eight dairy farms on Colorado’s eastern plains received energy-saving lighting and other equipment that resulted in huge savings on their electric bills. The four co-op participants (Morgan County Rural Electric Association, United Power, Highline Electric Association and Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association) worked with their memberowners to audit their energy usage and implement cost-saving measures. Today, those dairy operators are benefitting from lower monthly electricity bills due to the funds provided by CEO and the work of their local electric co-op.

To follow up on that project, we recently hosted the first meeting of the EnergyWise Advisory Council, a meeting of co-op employees who have expertise in energy efficiency and management. At the kickoff meeting, we brought in representatives from CEO, Colorado State University Extension, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Western Area Power Administration, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to talk about various efforts by these groups to promote energy efficiency in rural Colorado. We spent a full day discussing potential partnerships between the co-ops and these organizations and our collective ongoing efforts to help co-op member-owners reduce their power bills.

The purpose of the EnergyWise Advisory Council is to create a forum where electric co-op energy efficiency experts can come together a couple of times a year to discuss their individual programs and to also hear about the latest developments in the energy efficiency field. Colorado has many governmental, nonprofit and private sector organizations and companies that are nationally and internationally recognized as leaders in energy efficiency, and the EnergyWise council can draw on that expertise from time to time.

One of CREA’s functions as a trade organization is to provide opportunities for the employees of our member co-ops to get together to exchange information with their peers. We facilitate meetings of co-op CEOs, accountants, human resources professionals, attorneys, member services employees, operations managers, mechanics and now energy efficiency specialists. We look forward to supporting this newest peer group and believe that it will continue to find ways to help co-op member-owners manage their electricity usage wisely.

After all, that’s the co-op way.

CREA-Sponsored SB 15-046 Heads to Governor

We are pleased to report that earlier today the Colorado House of Representatives passed SB 15-046 on third and final reading. The vote: 65-0 in favor of the bill. Since the bill was not amended in the House, it does not have to go back to the Senate and will now go to Governor Hickenlooper for his signature.

SB 15-046 was proposed by CREA to address the “retail distributed generation (DG)” requirement contained in SB 13-252. By the year 2020, electric co-ops must derive at least 0.5% of their sales from renewable energy sources that are located on the customer side of the electric meter.  For some electric co-ops, this is impractical because while they may have large sales of electricity from industrial consumers, they have small numbers of residential consumers who might be interested in renewable energy like rooftop solar panels. So, one component of SB 15-046 allows co-ops to exclude industrial sales from the total amount of sales that is subject to the 0.5% retail DG requirement.

The second component of SB 15-046 allows electric co-ops to count the output from community solar gardens as retail DG. The current RES law allows investor-owned utilities to count solar gardens as retail DG, so this provision in the bill simply puts co-ops on equal footing with the other utilities.

CREA worked for months with the primary sponsors of the bill, Senator Kevin Grantham and Representative Dominick Moreno, as well as many stakeholder groups in order to bring the bill forward and move it through both chambers of the legislature. It was truly a collaborative process that required give and take on both sides and we are grateful to all involved. We are especially appreciative of the efforts of Senator Kerry Donovan who convened stakeholder meetings after the bill’s introduction to encourage the parties to find common ground.

Colorado’s electric co-ops continue to support the smart integration of renewable energy resources in a way that also protects the pocketbooks of our rural member-owners. We thank the Colorado General Assembly for supporting our common sense proposal to meet both objectives.

Co-op Innovation, Ingenuity Caught On Tape

From CREA Executive Director Kent Singer

In last November’s column, I mentioned that one of the highlights of CREA’s 2014 Energy Innovations Summit was the premier of a video that we produced here at the Colorado Rural Electric Association. Titled “Colorado’s Electric Co-ops: Energy and Innovation,” the video features many of the exciting projects that our state’s co-ops developed over the last few years including our collective deployment of renewable power projects, energy efficiency programs and advanced metering technology.

We showed the video for the first time to all of the Summit attendees and, to my surprise, the 250 or so attendees applauded loudly at the end; clearly, a lot of our members are proud of the efforts their co-ops are making to diversify their power supply mix with renewables, help their member-owners with energy efficiency and improve the reliability of their service with advanced metering. The video demonstrates that Colorado’s electric co-ops are at the forefront of new technology and that we are responsive to the wishes of our member-owners.

We worked on the production of the video for about a year, and that included the work of a videographer who went out to co-op service territories and documented the great work achieved by CREA’s members. All of the electric co-ops in Colorado are involved with new technology to help serve their member-owners, and one of the challenges in producing the video was selecting only a few of those projects for the final product. The innovation displayed by our members in the video is truly amazing, and I am writing about it in hopes that you will give it a watch. You can find the video on YouTube at Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see we posted three versions: the original 8-minute version (, a shorter 4-minute version ( that focuses on co-op renewable energy projects and a 2-minute version ( that focuses on energy efficiency projects. All three versions give you a sampling of the incredible work accomplished in Colorado co-op territories to meet the challenges of the evolving energy paradigm.

I would like to thank a number of people for making the “Energy and Innovation” video a reality. Mona Neeley, publisher/editor of Colorado Country Life, was instrumental in developing the creative concept, assimilating several of the still photos used in the video, and helping edit the narrative language. Stefan Brodsky, our videographer, spent several days on the road meeting with Colorado co-op employees and shooting footage of their projects and service territories. Jim Van Someren, our creative consultant, provided a huge assist in refining our message and keeping the project moving forward. Most importantly, I want to thank all of the folks at Colorado’s electric co-ops who helped us with the video, including those who ended up on camera: Steve Casey at Holy Cross Energy, Steve Metheny and Jim Hennegan at Delta-Montrose Electric Association, Jeff Wadsworth at Poudre Valley REA, Bill Annan at Morgan County REA, Susan Hunter at Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and Jerry Marizza and Ron Asche at United Power. If you ever worked on a project like this, you know the logistics are complicated and require the cooperation of a lot of people.

This video, “Colorado’s Electric Co-ops: Energy and Innovation,” demonstrates that Colorado’s electric co-ops are fulfilling our long-standing mission to provide safe, affordable and reliable electric service, and we are also integrating renewable resources and new technology to better serve our member-owners. The projects shown in this video are just a sample, and I have no doubt that somewhere down the road you will be able to watch “Energy and Innovation: The Sequel.”

EPA Hears from Electric Co-ops at Carbon Rule Hearings

Colorado’s electric co-ops were well-represented at this week’s EPA public comment hearings on the agency’s proposed rules limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants. Representatives of Poudre Valley REA, Intermountain REA, Grand Valley Power, Holy Cross Energy, La Plata Electric Association, Tri-State, CREA and others were among the hundreds of people who testified during the two days of hearings at EPA’s Region 8 headquarters building in downtown Denver.

While some co-op reps argued that the rules were necessary to curb carbon emissions, most expressed concerns about the impacts of the rules on electricity reliability and affordability for rural consumers. Some co-op witnesses testified that the four EPA “building blocks” are not realistic and will not provide a path to lower carbon emissions. Others pointed out that the time frames set forth in the rules are too tight and cannot be met. Still others pointed out to the EPA that the rules essentially make the agency the “super PUC” that will oversee all utility operations and generation resource plans.

Colorado’s electric co-ops have made great strides in recent years diversifying their power supply portfolios with the inclusion of both utility-scale and distributed renewable generation sources. We have always promoted energy efficiency and helping our member-owners save money on their power bills. Our overall carbon emissions have come down and will continue to do so as older coal plants are retired in favor of inexpensive natural gas. Market forces and the demands of our member-owners will be the most effective tools for carbon reductions; we hope EPA will recognize this trend and tread lightly on electric co-ops as it finalizes the Clean Power Plan.

Colorado Co-ops Represent in D.C.

At this week’s NRECA legislative conference in Washington, D.C., representatives of Colorado’s distribution co-ops and Tri-State G&T met with our Congressional delegation to discuss matters of importance to our program. As the legislative session in Colorado was winding down under the Golden Dome in Denver, approximately 85 Colorado co-op directors and managers shifted their attention to the work being done by our national senators and representatives.

The Colorado co-op delegation joined some 2500 co-op folks from around the U.S. to make Congress aware that the policies adopted in Washington impact our ability to provide affordable and reliable power to our member-owners. The co-ops spoke with one voice to remind our representatives that the many regulatory initiatives currently underway, from greenhouse gas and endangered species regulations to FEMA and energy efficiency policies, may result in higher electricity costs.

We were pleased this year that we had a chance to speak with the members rather than staff. While we appreciate the opportunity to meet with staffers, our message is clearer when it is delivered directly.  Both our Senators and our House members gave us ample opportunity to talk about co-op and energy policy issues, and we appreciate the opportunity to bend their ears. Just like the members of CREA, our congressional delegation is diverse and it was interesting to listen to their various perspectives on issues ranging from climate change to foreign policy. Hopefully our show of strength will help us stay relevant as Congress moves ahead with policies that impact co-ops in the months ahead.

The legislative conference is an important annual event on the co-op calendar, and Colorado co-ops once again demonstrated our commitment to being a force in the political arena.


Pennsylvania Electricity Consumers Burned by Retail Choice

In the late 1990’s, CREA joined with other consumer groups to defeat various legislative proposals designed to institute retail competition in the Colorado electricity market. Our position at the time was that retail choice would increase the electric bills of rural residential consumers as our largest loads were cherry-picked by power marketers. We understood that the only beneficiaries of the retail choice initiative would likely be large industrial customers and out-of-state companies like Enron who could manipulate the Colorado electricity market to the detriment of residential and small business customers. As it turns out, we had a pretty good crystal ball – just ask California ratepayers.

Recently, entities like the Compete Coalition have been advocating for an expansion of retail competition into those states that rejected this policy years ago. In proceedings before state utility commissions and legislatures, these advocacy groups have argued that retail competition in the electric sector will spur innovation, provide more options for consumers, and lower costs for businesses. These efforts are supported by such companies as Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven, and Staples; large commercial consumers of electricity.

Before Colorado or any other state jumps back on the retail choice bandwagon, however, they might want to consider the experience of Pennsylvania electricity consumers during this past winter. In February and March of this year, more than 9,100 Pennsylvania residents contacted the Pennsylvania public utilities commission expressing outrage about their power bills. A bitter cold snap put a strain on the electricity grid and sent electricity prices skyrocketing. Under the variable rate pricing scheme offered by certain power marketers in the retail choice-enabled state, electricity prices paid by some consumers increased by 200 – 400%; consumers who were used to seeing a monthly power bill of $150 were hit with bills topping $600.

Needless to say, the voices of Pennsylvania consumers have been heard and the Pennsylvania PUC has adopted new regulations requiring notice about the possible volatility of variable rates and requiring additional transparency of the rules under the retail choice program. The Pennsylvania legislature and Attorney General are also investigating whether the power marketers manipulated the market. In the meantime, Colorado and other states should think twice before embracing retail competition.