DENVER (AP) – The Republican sponsor of a bill to save a Colorado energy agency added some elements enticing to Democrats and secured a high-ranking Democratic House co-sponsor, raising prospects that the office will be renewed in one form or another.
Sen. Ray Scott’s bill would promote oil and gas production and cut several renewable energy and energy efficiency programs implemented by the Colorado Energy Office, whose funding expires June 30.
The GOP-led Senate passed the bill Thursday after a last-minute protest from Democratic Sen. Matt Jones, who insisted that “the direction we should be headed is a clean energy economy.” Jones cited climate change, methane emissions and breathing ailments aggravated by fossil fuels production in protesting the cuts.
Scott’s bill also makes it easier for some public utilities to produce and stockpile natural gas as a hedge against price hikes. Colorado regulators have stymied previous efforts to do so by Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, concerned the utilities would pass the costs of natural gas stockpiling to consumers.
The bill cuts the office’s budget from $3.1 million to $2.1 million.
Scott added a late amendment that mirrors Gov. John Hickenlooper’s order to energy companies to identify and inspect natural gas flowlines within 1,000 feet of buildings after an April 17 home explosion killed two people in Firestone, a small town in northern Colorado. Investigators said gas escaping from an abandoned flow line was to blame.
Scott’s amendment would require Colorado’s oil and gas regulators to report inspection progress to the Legislature. But it’s not as tough as a Democratic bill to require oil and gas producers to provide locations of all their gas lines. That bill died early Thursday after a Republican filibuster.
Scott’s bill likely faced amendments in the Democrat-led House, where Majority Leader K.C. Becker signed on as a co-sponsor. With the Legislative session ending Wednesday, Democrats introduced a last-minute bill to fund the Colorado Energy Office at existing levels without program cuts. That bill is unlikely to pass the Senate.
Scott, whose western Colorado district is rich in natural gas, says Colorado is losing out on severance taxes that are levied on companies that extract minerals, oil and gas because state utilities are buying natural gas out-of-state.
He cites the example of Utah-based Wexpro, which in 1981 won state permission to develop natural gas for its own utility, Questar Gas. Wexpro says it’s saved Questar customers in Utah and parts of Wyoming and Idaho some $1 billion in natural gas power costs.
The bill would eliminate several Colorado Energy Office programs promoting savings for schools, farmers, homeowners and businesses. Since 2012, the office has helped 15,000 low-income households install energy-saving items, promoted irrigation and power-saving projects on farms, and encouraged the installation solar panels and wind turbines – two technologies that Scott says have matured enough to do without government incentives.
– By JAMES ANDERSON, AP Writer
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