I try to vote my principles and sometimes those principles cross party lines. One example of that was my vote on HB 1102, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Swalm and heard in the Transportation Committee, where it was postponed indefinitely. I have grown to have the deepest respect for Rep. Swalm, a Republican, and one of the most thoughtful legislators in the Colorado House of Representatives.
HB 1102 would have required the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to cap the rate of increase on electric utility bills to 1 percent per year for 10 years. This bill was in response to HB 1365 that was passed in 2010 as a result of federal EPA requirements to clean up the air on the Front Range. HB 1365 allowed some electric generating companies to switch to natural gas generation from coal and guaranteed that the electric generating companies would be able to recoup the increased cost of switching to natural gas. There is still a lot of criticism by the coal industry that HB 1365 picked natural gas as the winner and coal as the loser. During the legislative hearings in 2010, Xcel Energy estimated that the increase in electricity costs would be between 4 and 6 percent, but they are now asking for a 24 percent increase because of unforeseen costs. This is the crux of the complaint and the impetus for HB 1102.
It is all very complicated. I was not in the legislature in 2010 and I did not vote for HB 1365. To me, HB 1365 is a separate issue from HB 1102. The fact is that one of the jobs of the PUC to set electricity rates for utility companies that have limited competition and are more or less a monopoly. The PUC bases decisions on-up-to date information that is brought to them during timely public hearings. I voted against HB 1102, brought by my good friend Rep. Swalm, because we must not tie the hands of the PUC by passing laws that do not leave the flexibility needed to make informed decisions. How do we know what the costs for generating electricity will be 10 years from now?
On another issue, Senate President Brandon Shaffer sent HB 1159, the Electing County Commissioners by District Bill, to the kill committee. HB 1159 will be heard by the Senate State Affairs Committee on Feb. 29 at 1:30 p.m. in one of the hearing rooms on the third floor at the Capitol. This bill simply allows smaller counties, with fewer than 70,000 people, to go to the ballot and decide whether or not to elect county commissioners by district. Big counties already have this right. If counties are happy with electing commissioners at large they can continue in that way.
HB 1159 passed out of the House with only four no votes. It is pure politics that the Democrats are going to try to kill this bill in committee. This is not just a La Plata County issue. I have had people from all over the state talk to me about how important this bill is for representative county government in Colorado.
J. Paul Brown represents House District 59 in Colorados General Assembly. The district encompasses San Juan, Archuleta and La Plata counties and parts of Montezuma County. Contact Rep. Brown at (303) 866-2914 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.