Colorado has a renewable energy portfolio standard for energy utility companies:
Investor-owned utilities: 30% by 2020
Electric cooperatives serving fewer than 100,000 meters: 10% by 2020
Electric cooperatives serving 100,000 or more meters: 20% by 2020
Municipal utilities serving more than 40,000 customers: 10% by 2020
The standard started with a ballot measure that voters approved in 2004 and was subsequently strengthened by legislative action twice. The dominant utility in Colorado is Xcel Energy, based in Minneapolis, MN. Despite spending money to defeat the initial ballot measure and the two following standards to generate first 10%, then 20%, and now 30% renewable energy by 2020, Xcel would have, did, and will meet the standards.
As with most topics, implementing high-level policies turned out differently than many RES supporters envisioned. After the 2004 ballot measure passed, Xcel convinced the Public Utilities Commission that it needed to build a 766MW coal plant in Pueblo, CO. CO consumers overwhelmingly objected to the planned plant for a few reasons: nobody was in desperate need of those MW, the plant’s cost (which ended up being over $1 billion) would be passed directly onto those same customers who didn’t need excess capacity, and they wanted Xcel to focus on renewable energy plants (wind and solar). Since the PUC approved the plant, it hasn’t run at capacity. There’s no surprise there. Costs definitely went up on every customer in Xcel’s service region, whether they received Comanche energy or not. This is the primary problem with private and investor utilities: the easiest way to make money is to force consumers to pay for expensive infrastructure. And as I stated above, Xcel will easily meet its renewable energy standard.
How did Pueblo fare? Well, that’s a new part of the story for me. A local utility serviced Pueblo, which Black Hills Energy bought, who opted to replace nearly all its cheap coal capacity with natural gas essentially overnight. This meant ratepayers are footed some more big infrastructure bills all at once. In fact, Pueblo’s residential rate per kilowatt-hour has risen 26 percent since 2010. What portion of Comanche 3’s electricity made it to Pueblo? None of it. Instead, the northern half of the Front Range uses that energy – the same place that wouldn’t allow Xcel to build a coal plant due to pollution and cost.