Legislators make last push for 'green finish line'

By Elizabeth Stortroen

The wind blew softly and the sun shone brightly on Wednesday afternoon, offering the perfect setting for members of the Legislature, Environment Colorado and other advocates of the renewable energy industry to make a last-minute push to put environmentally sound legislation over the green finish line.

Sen. Majority Leader and incoming Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, speaks during the renewable energy rally on the West Steps of the Capitol on Wednesday.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Only a week was left in the session as they gathered on the Capitol’s West Steps to urge support for six “green” bills that remain in the legislative hopper.

“The actions we take today will allow investors and entrepreneurs to be confident in Colorado’s commitment to expanding the New Energy Economy,” said Colorado Senate President-elect Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont. “This, coupled with a strong policy framework incentivizing and facilitating clean energy development, will ensure that Colorado has an ‘Open for Business’ sign.”

As the clock ticks away the minutes toward the end of the legislative session on May 6, legislators who support the six bills are working to build momentum, talking up what each bill could do for Colorado’s workforce and its future in renewable energy.

Pam Kiely, legislative policy director for Environment Colorado, said this session has moved in the right direction for Colorado, noting that numerous bills supporting conservation and the development of wind and solar energy were introduced and passed. As a result, she said, many new jobs will be created.

“Today we could only highlight the last bills we are working on to push through before the session ends,” said Kiely in an interview with The Colorado Statesman. “But with the number of bills we have seen this session, I think it is a good indicator that our legislators care about protecting our environment and increasing our energy independence.”

Pam Kiely, legislative policy director for Environment Colorado, speaks during a rally on Wednesday at the Capitol.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, spoke at the press conference and was delighted by the fact that House Bill 1312, which he sponsored with Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, had passed the Senate on Third Reading earlier in the day. HB 1312 would create opportunities for schools to invest in clean energy through low interest loans.

Kerr reminded everyone that few green recovery bills will get through both houses without bipartisan support.

“This is not a partisan issue we are talking about, and now is not the time to sit on the sidelines and play party-line politics,” Kerr said. “It is time to challenge everyone in the House, Senate and all across Colorado to step up the bipartisan politics and do what is right for the people of Colorado.”

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, spoke about the benefits of House Bill 1323, which would ensure that Coloradans who get power from rural co-ops have access to the same cost-saving energy efficiencies provided by larger utilities.

Levy, who co-sponsored HB 1323 with Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, said energy efficiency is the cheapest and easiest way to repower the economy and cut down on global warming pollution.

Environment Colorado’s Kiely also weighed in on HB 1323, asserting that it’s probably the most important bill that remains unpassed in the last week of the session.

Supporters of Environment Colorado hold up banners and homemade signs during the renewable energy legislative rally at the Capitol.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

“Of the list of bills we are trying to push through right now, I think Representative Levy’s bill is in the most danger of not passing because it can’t seem to get off of the House floor,” Kiely said. “I think it is coming down to whether or not some lawmakers agree that a mandate is the right thing to do, because they don’t think the government should be involved in financing some of these programs.”

House Bill 1126 is the solar thermal jobs bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Niwot. It passed on Third Reading in the House on Wednesday and is now assigned to the Senate Committee on Local Government and Energy.

Hullinghorst said this bill would rejuvenate Colorado’s economy with good-paying green jobs by creating incentives to lower the cost of installing solar hot water heaters.

“It’s not hot air to say that solar hot water cuts energy costs and creates jobs,” said Hullinghorst. “Besides reducing our carbon footprint, solar hot water will put more money into people’s pockets and more jobs into the economy.”

Another bill that remains on the wrong side of the green finish line is House Bill 1345, sponsored by Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, and Sen. Schwartz, which would create a transmission infrastructure to put clean, green electrons on the wires and make Colorado a net-clean energy exporter. It made it through the Senate Committee on Local Government and Energy and is awaiting its Second Reading in the Senate.

House Bill 1331, sponsored by Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, and Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, which just passed its Third Reading in the House, would create tax incentives for high-tech motor vehicles, including zero-emission and low-emission vehicles and cars that can get upwards of 70 miles per gallon. The bill is now assigned to the Senate Committee on State, Veterans’ and Military Affairs.

House Bill 1346, the Investment Recovery Act, sponsored by Shaffer and Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, would maximize the opportunity to leverage federal support for clean energy projects in Colorado that create homegrown jobs. The bill passed its Third Reading in the House and is now moving to the Senate.

The scope of the bills that were introduced in this session for renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental protection demonstrates to some that Colorado could become a national leader in supplying clean, green and renewable power.

“This has been a good year for Colorado, with the bills we have seen make it through, and as for the bills that do not get passed this session, we will be working on them again next year, and the year after that, and so on to make sure they eventually pass,” Kiely said. “We want the people of Colorado to be able to invest in our state’s renewable resources.”

Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, speaks to supporters during the rally on Wednesday. Fischer is a well-known environmentalist in the Fort Collins area.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman