DENVER (AP) -- Rural Coloradans will see higher renewable energy requirements from their utilities, but not as high as their urban counterparts, under a controversial energy bill that won final approval in the state House on Tuesday.
The bill requires Colorado's rural cooperative electric associations to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from 10 percent.
Democrats who sponsored the increase said it would bring jobs in the wind and solar sector to rural Colorado.
But Republicans vigorously fought the measure, arguing that even a slight uptick in utility bills could cripple struggling consumers in rural areas. All Republicans ultimately voted against the measure, even though the 20 percent rate is lower than the one approved by the Senate.
"That community right now is on life support. And when that gavel goes down and this bill passes, you have pulled the plug," argued Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose. "That community is dead. It has no chance of recovery."
Republican arguments against the energy bill kept the House at work past midnight Friday, and the objections stretched several hours on Monday and Tuesday, too. The bill passed on a party-line 37-27 vote.
Investor-owned utilities, which serve most Coloradans, already have to meet a 30 percent standard.
The rural measure approved Tuesday limits consumer rate hikes to pay for the upgrade to 2 percent. Republicans questioned the cap and said it could still decimate rural jobs.
"The state's rural economy has always been fragile," argued Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor.
Rural Democrats argued that the renewable energy could create jobs in wind and solar energy production. They sided with the bill and said rural residents care just as much as their Front Range neighbors about moving away from fossil fuels.
"The people elected me because I ran on the fact that I would improve renewable energy," said Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango.
The measure now must return to the Senate, which approved the bill in a stronger form. If the Democratic Senate agrees to ratchet back the standard to 20 percent, the bill will head to the governor's desk.
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