Senators Blast Power Plant Closure Proposal

Denver — Two Republican state senators, including the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, today blasted a proposal from Xcel Energy, announced Tuesday, that would prematurely shutter two of the state's most reliable energy producers, while pouring even more tax money into unreliable energy sources that may not meet the state's long-term needs for affordable and dependable base load power.

Both senators called the move an end-run around the legislature, which blocked a similar proposal made in the waning days of the last session. They criticized Xcel for caring more about corporate welfare windfalls than customers, and raised questions about the independence of those tasked with weighing the proposal.

 "Renewable energy providers in Colorado already profit from a wide variety of special preferences and handouts, including some of the highest renewable energy mandates in the country, but apparently that’s not enough for one utility, which is pulling a bit of a fast one by going to the PUC for something it couldn’t get passed through the legislature," said Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), who chairs the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. "This proposal didn’t fly at the Statehouse because Republicans don’t believe it’s in the interest of Colorado energy consumers to shut down our most affordable and dependable power plants, while subsidizing over-expansion of unreliable, not-ready-for-primetime alternatives.

 "We keep hearing that renewable energy has finally come of age and can compete with traditional power providers on a level playing field," Sonnenberg added, "yet when push comes to shove, they’re always coming back for more handouts and special preferences, that come at ratepayer or taxpayer expense."

 Weld County Republican John Cooke on Tuesday filed a Colorado Open Records Act request with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) and the Colorado Energy Office (CEA), seeking any records or communications related to the proposal. Cooke says he fears that backroom deals may be afoot.

 "Colorado energy users and ratepayers need to know whether these ostensibly independent and unbiased entities are acting with their interests in mind, or whether they're being improperly influenced to rubber-stamp this unwise and consumer-unfriendly proposal by the company, the governor, his staff, or anyone else who stands to benefit politically or financially," said Cooke. "When a similar idea came before the General Assembly last session, Senate Republicans said 'no' because we think it will eventually drive-up energy costs and undermine grid reliability. But rather than just take 'no' for an answer, the company is working with the governor and other powerful allies to push this through in a very irregular and undemocratic way."

Cooke sees a potential for backroom deal-cutting because members of the entity charged with weighing this proposal, Colorado's PUC, were all appointed by a governor who is known to support this plan. Cooke said this cozy relationship can't help but raise questions about PUC's accountability and independence, and may prompt a closer look at how PUC's members are selected.

 

"It's hard to trust that PUC will consistently act as independently as it ought to, or always act in the energy consumer's interest, when its members all are appointed by a governor whose own energy agenda may not put ratepayers first," said Cooke. "By highlighting the potential conflicts of interest that can arise, this case may prompt a broader debate about whether a major PUC overhaul is needed."
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