Colorado Capitol

The Colorado Capitol in Denver. 

The Colorado General Assembly's Joint Budget Committee addressed a $3.3-billion budget shortfall before returning to the Capitol to finish its regular session. There, lawmakers unveiled a package of bills aimed at coronavirus relief and passed one that could offer utility bill assistance before adjournment June 15.

The Assembly suspended its session March 14 in response to the pandemic. After reconvening May 26, lawmakers took another brief hiatus in response to protests in Denver related to the May 25 death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

A bill, HB 20-1412, sponsored by four Democratic legislators and passed June 11, if signed by Gov. Jared Polis will create a $10-million fund for utility bill payment assistance to be administered by the Colorado Energy Office. Polis on June 12 ended the statewide shut-off moratorium established in March by executive order in response to the pandemic (see related story). "While some utilities have implemented a moratorium on utility disconnections, the moratoriums do not address the difficulty that a household that is facing economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will have paying its utility bill once a utility's disconnection moratorium is lifted," the bill says.

Two transmission bills sponsored by Sen. Chris Hansen (D-Denver) died in committee. SB 20-190 would have created incentives for transmission construction and directed the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to approve utility applications for new transmission facilities that would advance the state's clean-energy goals. It died in committee June 3. Hansen's SB 20-012, which would have authorized conservation easements for renewable-energy transmission lines in the state, died in February.

Polis on March 27 signed HB 20-1225, giving the Colorado PUC specific jurisdiction over electric cooperatives, establishing guidelines for co-op storage interconnection to the grid, and declaring the PUC's authority to adjudicate disputes over retail cooperatives withdrawing from wholesale cooperative membership (see related story).

Other energy-related bills that were considered but failed in Colorado in the 2020 legislative session include one that would have authorized the study of community choice energy in the state; another would have funded the improvement of energy-efficiency programs. State tax credits for renewable-energy investment and incentives for energy storage and low-emission baseload generation were other bill topics that failed to advance this session.

Looking ahead to Colorado's 2020 general election in November, the special-interest group Protect Colorado is gathering signatures for a ballot measure that would prohibit any regulations to "inhibit consumer choice through restrictions on the installation of natural gas utilization in homes and businesses." The group will need to collect at least 124,632 signatures by Aug. 3 to get Initiative 284 on the ballot. Arizona's HB 2686, which has similar intent, was signed Feb. 21 by Gov. Doug Ducey (see CEM No. 1581).

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Legislature commenced a special session June 18 to address a $2.4-billion budgetary shortfall. Although lawmakers passed a budget before the conclusion of the 54th Legislature Feb. 20, the state's fiscal situation began rapidly changing a month later, on March 24, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order. Revenue loss due to crashing oil and natural gas prices and the shutting in of wells have also affected the state's financial health.

A coalition of environmental groups on June 5 wrote a letter to the Legislature's finance committees urging them to limit budget cuts for the state's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and Environment Department to no more than 3 percent of the originally appropriated levels for fiscal year 2021.

Executives from New Mexico's Center for Civic Policy and the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club in a June 17 joint release urged the Legislature to tread lightly in making cuts to school, hospital and green-energy budgets.

"Like many states, New Mexico is taking in significantly less revenue than we anticipated when the FY21 budget was crafted," Oriana Sandoval of the Center for Civic Policy and Camilla Feibelman of the Sierra Club said in the release. "It is time to work to diversify our economy to ensure that we have enough revenue from stable sources and move away from the boom-and-bust cycles of the extractive industry," they said, criticizing the state's overreliance on oil and gas as "the product of scarcity-minded budgets and ineffective tax breaks."

Lujan Grisham on June 17 asked New Mexico lawmakers during the special session to also take up bills addressing pandemic tax relief and loans to small businesses and municipalities, police accountability, and vote-by-mail provisions.

Aria covers California and the Southwest from Albuquerque. Her work has appeared in a variety of popular and academic publications.

Staff Writer

Abigail Sawyer grew up in northwestern New Mexico near two massive coal-fired power plants. She spent many hours gazing out the car window at transmission lines on family road trips across the Southwest and now reports on the region from San Francisco.