DENVER - State environmentalists want rural electric cooperatives to pay for energy-efficiency programs, something big-city utilities already have to do.
"No one should be spending more on their utility bills than they have to, and the fact of the matter is that across Colorado, people are," said Pam Kiely of Environment Colorado.
Environmentalists plan to back an efficiency bill in the state Legislature sometime this year, but first they're trying to diffuse opposition from the rural utilities.
A bill forcing rural co-ops to pay for energy-efficiency programs is one of four goals for environmentalists this legislative session, which began Jan. 7 and ends in early May.
The groups also want the Legislature to:•Approve new rules on gas and oil drilling.
•Include money for mass transit in a major transportation bill that's expected to be unveiled today.
•Require homebuilders to offer solar panels on their new homes.
The Legislature has begun to impose green-energy requirements on rural utilities in recent years, with a 2007 mandate for renewable power and a 2008 requirement to buy power from people with home-based solar panels or windmills.
This year's bill seeks to cut the amount of energy rural utilities need from power generators such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which provides power to La Plata Electric Association.
"That is way cheaper than putting up a coal plant, way cheaper than a wind farm, way cheaper than a solar plant," Kiely said.
The Legislature already requires Xcel Energy, which serves much of the Front Range, to sponsor an energy-efficiency program. Xcel funds rebates for people who buy extra insulation or efficient furnaces and hot water heaters.
A rural energy-efficiency bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate. It would have required rural utilities to use up to 2 percent of their revenue to pay for efficiency programs.
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, thinks the Legislature's new requirements don't work for rural cooperatives.
"It's our neighbors - farmers, ranchers - that own the rural electric utilities," Gardner said.
Greg Munro, chief executive officer of LPEA, was not available for comment Tuesday.
Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said he hasn't read the bill, but he thinks efficiency programs make sense because they are the easiest way to save energy. However, Isgar said rural co-ops should be trusted to do what's right for their customers because the customers are also the owners, unlike investor-owned utilities like Xcel.
"It's a different dynamic that a lot of people up here don't understand," Isgar said.