By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director
If you are familiar with Shakespeare’s Henry V, you may recall King Henry’s exhortation to his troops at the siege of Harfleur during the Hundred Years’ War. The city walls have been weakened by a long assault and the English troops are sick and exhausted, but Henry urges them to muster all their strength and fortitude for a final, victorious charge.
Okay, I admit it’s a little melodramatic to compare CREA’s lobbying efforts with the Hundred Years’ War. However, as we look back at the recently concluded 2023 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly, you should know that the CREA government relations team once again “entered the breach” (in this case, the doors to the State Capitol) to protect the interests of Colorado’s electric co-ops.
As compared with past sessions, energy policy played a secondary role in 2023 while the legislature focused on social issues such as gun control, abortion, tenant’s rights, and healthcare costs. There were bills intended to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of power, but much of the policy movement on that front had already been decided during the 2019 legislative session.
When the session adjourned on May 8, legislators had introduced 610 bills. Of that number, CREA staff actively “engaged” on 42 bills. This means we either worked to support, oppose, or amend the legislation based on our evaluation of the impacts on electric co-ops and ultimately the vote of the CREA Board of Directors.
On the energy policy front during the 2023 legislative session, the General Assembly convened a “Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates” to investigate the cause of the high heating bills that many Coloradans were hit with in late 2022 and early 2023.
Although the Committee’s focus was to explore why customers of Colorado’s investor-owned utilities were impacted by these charges, we made sure the Committee understood this was not a co-op problem.
We made it clear to the legislators that, for the most part, electric co-ops do not provide home heating services and that our rates have remained stable. As a result, a bill that was introduced by the Committee to further regulate investor-owned electric utilities did not affect electric co-ops.
We also were successful in pushing back on a bill (HB23-1282) that we believe would have resulted in frivolous lawsuits against electric co-ops. Electric co-op consumer-members are already protected from unfair or unjust rates under Colorado law, and there was no reason to call them out under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. We garnered bipartisan support to defeat this bill, and we’re thankful to the many legislators who supported our position.
Another bill that we worked on for months was SB23-292, a bill that establishes new requirements for energy sector construction projects. SB23-292 requires that, when certain types of energy projects such as generating plants and transmission lines are constructed, contractors must pay prevailing wages and have apprenticeship programs.
While these requirements may be appropriate for larger projects, we successfully argued that they should not apply to most projects undertaken by distribution co-ops. We worked with the proponents of the bill and the bill sponsors to narrow the application of the bill in a way that benefits CREA member co-ops.
We also initiated a Senate Resolution (SR23-007) recognizing Colorado Electrical Lineworker Appreciation Day. The resolution establishes April 18 each year as the day to recognize all of Colorado’s electric lineworkers and the great work they do to keep the lights on for Colorado citizens.
About a dozen electric co-op lineworkers were present on the Senate floor as the resolution was read and they had a chance to meet with many of the Senators after the resolution was unanimously approved. These folks are often the unsung heroes of the electric industry and we’re grateful to the Colorado State Senate for recognizing their important service to the state.
CREA has a tremendous legislative team led by Director of Government Relations and General Counsel Craig Johnson and Manager of Legislative Affairs Tim Coleman who, along with our contract lobbying firm Brandeberry McKenna, worked long hours during the session to monitor the legislative process 24 hours a day for 120 days (the length of the session).
We’re also thankful for our dedicated legislative committee headed up by Debbie Rose of San Isabel Electric Association, and the CREA Board of Directors; the board spends many hours helping us develop our legislative positions.
So, while the 2023 legislative session was not exactly the “blast of war” described in Henry V, we nevertheless summoned “every spirit” to defend the interests of Colorado’s electric co-ops.
Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.