The 72nd Colorado General Assembly convened with state Democrats holding the majority in both the House and Senate and occupying the governor’s office. The majority’s ability to pass legislation without working with Republicans, coupled with disregard for generally accepted timelines for bill introductions and hearings, created a barrier between the parties and led to less collaboration than most would hope to see.

IREA has taken positions on a few key bills that have yet to be finalized:

House Bill 19-1003, sponsored by Rep. Chris Hansen (D-Denver), increases the maximum size of a community solar garden (CSG) from 2 megawatts to 5 megawatts and allows subscribers to simply reside within the service territory of the utility that owns the CSG, instead of in the CSG’s same or adjacent county. IREA supported this bill because it allows increased participation in community solar gardens through larger installations and greater customer eligibility.

IREA opposed House Bill 19-1261, sponsored by House Speaker KC Becker (D-Boulder) and Rep. Dominique Jackson (D-Aurora), which requires the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to adopt regulations decreasing statewide greenhouse gas emissions from all sources by 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. While IREA itself is working to reduce CO2 emissions, this bill turns over control of the state’s economy to an appointed commission with no identified plan, no cost estimates and no meaningful legislative restraints.

We also opposed House Bill 19-1313. While it sets goals for carbon reduction and authorizes the AQCC to establish rules to implement those goals, House Bill 19-1313 allows Colorado’s largest electric utility, Xcel Energy, to avoid AQCC regulation, gain further market control and get full cost recovery for both shutting down generation resources and building new ones. If this legislation passes, Colorado’s largest electric utility will have no incentive to work with the rest of the state to join a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO), which generally is seen as key to integrating large-scale renewables and lowering consumer costs.

The legislature also considered the sunset review of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). IREA is not regulated by the PUC in most regards, but we closely monitored the legislation, as it may be used as a vehicle to implement other laws that may impact IREA and its customers. One such proposed measure that caused concern is a provision that would set a “social cost of carbon” to be considered in all matters heard by the PUC. This proposed social cost of carbon is $46 per short ton.

Many bills were brought forward this year to adjust business practices; IREA is working on these bills within larger business coalitions. We opposed the introduced version of Senate Bill 19-188, which creates a Family Medical Leave Insurance Program. As introduced, this plan is not optional and will impose ongoing and escalating costs on employers and employees to fund the benefits and the agency established to administer them. While we believe it important that businesses able to do so offer employees a robust leave policy for unforeseen circumstances, policies like the one mandated by HB19-188 create additional cost burdens for employers and will encourage many to drop higher-benefit policies to avoid maintaining and paying for two policies.

Additionally, smaller businesses have difficulty filling positions for 12 weeks and should be allowed flexibility to work with employees who need to access paid leave. We currently are working with others in the business community to find a viable solution in the family leave discussion.

We also continued to push for a legislative solution that would authorize the PUC to take action regarding an RTO, which has been detailed in previous editions of Watts & Volts. Our goal is for the PUC to allow regulated utilities to participate in an RTO, which we believe would benefit all Coloradans via simplified transactions among utilities, improvement of transmission line capacity, increased use of and access to cost-effective generation resources and annual financial benefits estimated between $14 million and $53 million. Such a move has broad legislative support, and IREA and other parties currently are determining the best approach to make that happen.

The legislative session ends each year in early May. We will provide a review of the disposition of key bills relevant to the co-op next month.