Legislative impasse pulls plug on Colorado’s Energy Office

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By Michael Sandoval

The Colorado Energy Office (CEO), for years a promoter of renewable energy policy and technology, often at the expense of the state’s abundant natural resources, faced its own political reality on July 1: intermittent and unreliable political support.

Not necessarily a bad thing.

Though the agency did not face an immediate shutdown, as many expected, the current mission for the state’s energy office has been put on pause, at least until the next legislative session beginning in early 2018. Even without reauthorization, however, programs like weatherization will continue since funding comes from federal grants.

State Republicans argued that the office had lost its way and had become a mouthpiece only for wind and solar, ignoring nuclear energy and penalizing the state’s coal and oil, and natural gas industries. Democrats resisted stripping away what they believed was the office’s core function – the promotion of efficiency, renewable energy, and market-enhancing subsidies for favored technologies, like electric vehicles and rooftop solar.

The Denver Post’s Megan Schrader lamented in an op-ed the role CEO played to “prime the pump” on alternative technologies.

“Many of these programs need fine-tuning. They are experiments, set up on a temporary basis to prime the pump. But that is not the debate that happened around the Colorado Energy Office. The conversation precipitating the office’s demise was about everything but the validity of these individual programs and better ways to achieve the laudable goals of efficiency and sustainability,” Schrader wrote.

Without CEO, she argued, innovations would slow. “And that is too bad, because those of us who care about using less and conserving more will have to wait longer without these policies for the price to come down or the next big innovation to arrive.”

Yes, without the Colorado Energy Office, the market would forget how to respond to customer forces without an agency to “guide” it, and customers themselves would be powerless to voluntarily use less and conserve more.

Technological innovation and the personal tastes of consumers don’t – and should not – rely on the political whims of unelected agencies. Do calls for conservation or good-for-business efficiency practices simply disappear if Colorado did not have an energy office? Federal funding for weatherization or natural gas stations will continue apace, with or without the office. And, given the state’s political leanings, as well as a bipartisan notion of responsible energy development of Colorado’s vast oil and gas resources, the debate over state energy policy will unlikely subside any time soon.

What then, is the ultimate purpose of the Colorado Energy Office? Is it to simply administer federally funded energy programs, or promote state incentives, like the alternative vehicle tax credit? The political battle this past session over reauthorization focused on what the agency’s mission statement meant: “To deliver cost-effective energy services and advance innovative energy solutions for the benefit of all Coloradans.” For many years post-stimulus, the agency functioned as a funnel for efficiency block grants and other federal spending programs.

Duplicative and unnecessary functions of the Colorado Energy Office, like the vague “promotion” of “innovative” energy production should raise eyebrows. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities and resource planning. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment manages air quality. Federal taxpayers foot the bill for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, whose entire mission is technological development. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission handles the state’s oil and gas development.

Coloradans should ask, as did the movie Office Space, “What would you say you do here?”

If the state, oil and gas companies, renewable energy companies, consumers, and any other producer or end-user of energy can move forward, as was expected on July 1, without a state energy office, then do we really need one?

Michael Sandoval is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups.

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