Reporting on a renewable energy bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, The Denver Post erroneously stated that the deadline for large utilities to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources is 2010. Newsradio 850 KOA host Jon Caldara repeated the false claim and made misleading statements about wind power. In fact, the law's 20 percent mandate does not go into effect until 2020.
An article by Jeri Clausing in the March 28 edition of The Denver Post erroneously reported that a bill Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter signed March 27 "requires large, investor-owned utilities to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2010." Newsradio 850 KOA host Jon Caldara made a similar statement on the March 28 broadcast of his show, falsely claming that the bill requires utilities to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources "within three years." In fact, House Bill 1281 establishes the required percentage of renewable sources in stages, reaching 20 percent in 2020.
Caldara also misleadingly argued against wind energy, which he called "propeller power," on the grounds that it "doesn't exist without subsidies from the feds" -- an assertion that ignores subsidies enjoyed by other modes of power generation. Furthermore, Caldara falsely asserted that wind power "will require you to build backup generators," ignoring the federal government's assessment that the existing, interconnected utility system already constitutes the backup for wind power generation.
The Post reported that renewable energy is high on the agenda of "[Ritter's] office and Democratic legislative leaders":
Increasing renewable energy production was a centerpiece of Ritter's campaign, and the bills he signed Tuesday are the mainstay of the agenda pushed this year by his office and Democratic legislative leaders.
House Bill 1281 requires large, investor-owned utilities to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2010. Smaller cooperative utilities would have to produce 10 percent of their power from alternative sources by then.
After reading from the Post article, Caldara, who is president of the conservative Independence Institute, repeated the erroneous deadline for full implementation of the renewable sources requirement:
CALDARA: Bill Ritter just doubled the mandate that Colorado utility companies have to produce with so-called renewable sources. Now this sure feels good, doesn't it? Let's -- let's see if we can pick it apart a little bit. House Bill 1281 requires electricity producers -- utilities -- to produce 20 percent of their energy from renew, renewable sources within four years -- within three years, actually.
However, the text of HB 1281 provides a schedule according to which utilities must use renewable sources for the generation of specific percentages of their retail energy sales, reaching 20 percent "for the years 2020 and thereafter":
40-2-124. Renewable energy standard. (1) Each provider of retail electric service in the state of Colorado, other than municipally owned utilities that serve forty thousand customers or less, shall be considered a qualifying retail utility. Each qualifying retail utility, with the exception of cooperative electric associations that have voted to exempt themselves from commission jurisdiction pursuant to section 40-9.5-104 and municipally owned utilities, shall be subject to the rules established under this article by the commission.
(I) Except as provided in subparagraph (V) of this paragraph (c), the electric resource standards shall require each qualifying retail utility to generate, or cause to be generated, electricity from eligible energy resources in the following minimum amounts:
(A) Three percent of its retail electricity sales in Colorado for the year 2007;
(B) Five percent of its retail electricity sales in Colorado for the years 2008 through 2010;
(C) Ten percent of its retail electricity sales in Colorado for the years 2011 through 2014;
(D) Fifteen percent of its retail electricity sales in Colorado for the years 2015 through 2019; and
(E) Twenty percent of its retail electricity sales in Colorado for the years 2020 and thereafter.
In contrast to Caldara and the Post, the Rocky Mountain News in its March 28 article on the bill's signing correctly identified the 2020 deadline for the 20 percent renewable sources requirement and explained that the requirement advances upon a similar goal established by Amendment 37 in 2004:
The law requires utilities to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as the sun, wind or biomass by 2020 -- double the goal of 10 percent by 2015 set by Amendment 37, which voters passed in November 2004. Customers eventually would pay the cost incurred by utilities to comply with the renewable standards.
Later in his show, Caldara continued to criticize the renewable energy mandate, calling it "Stalinistic economic development." He also misleadingly claimed that wind power "doesn't exist" without federal subsidies:
CALDARA: There's two types of subsidies. The federal government says, "Here, we'll give you money to build stuff that the market doesn't want. And then you have Bill Ritter putting a gun to businesses' heads, saying, "You will buy this product." And then we tout ourselves and pat ourselves on the back for, quote, "economic development"? What kind of Stalinistic economic development is this? Propeller power doesn't exist without the subsidies from the feds, and without the government here putting a gun to the private sector's head, saying, "You will buy 20 percent of your electricity from these inefficient, fickle, unreliable propellers that will require you to build backup generators." And we're proud of this?
Caldara's statement about "propeller power" is misleading in that, as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) noted in a document titled "Wind Energy Myths," "[E]very energy source receives significant federal subsidies; it is disingenuous to expect wind energy to compete in the marketplace without the incentives enjoyed by established technologies."
The DOE also addressed the conservative talking point, which Caldara repeated, that wind power is unreliable and would "require you to build backup generators":
No power plant is 100% reliable. During a power plant outage -- whether a conventional plant or a wind plant --backup is provided by the entire interconnected utility system. The system operating strategy strives to make best use of all elements of the overall system, taking into account the operating characteristics of each generating unit and planning for contingencies such as plant or transmission line outages. The utility system is also designed to accommodate load fluctuations, which occur continuously. This feature also facilitates accommodation of wind plant output fluctuations. In Denmark, Northern Germany, and parts of Spain, wind supplies 20% to 40% of electric loads without sacrificing reliability. When wind is added to a utility system, no new backup is required to maintain system reliability.