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FOCUS ON THE SPRINGS | Emergency power for rural communities, motorcycle crash data

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Two state legislators representing El Paso County are sponsoring bills that aim to establish emergency power systems in rural communities and more accurately record data on motorcycle crashes.

House Bill 1013 would create the Microgrids for Community Resilience Grant Program, providing funds to rural communities to establish microgrids — standalone, backup power systems to provide up to five days of power in case of an emergency. The microgrids would be set up to power a community’s emergency response systems, including fire stations, police stations, evacuation centers and hospitals.

Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, is sponsoring the bill, calling it a “game changer” for the protection and support of rural communities in Colorado.

“When you lose power, you lose all capacity for public safety,” Snyder said. “We realized that the rural communities really don’t have the capacity to build up a resilient system and have a backup system that will serve them during those critical hours and days after a disaster.”

Snyder said he was inspired to sponsor the bill by recent wildfires that have knocked out power systems in Colorado towns.

He was the mayor of Manitou Springs when the Waldo Canyon fire burned more than 18,000 acres in 2012. Just two months ago, the Marshall fire burned more than 6,000 acres in Boulder County, destroying over 1,000 houses, making it the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. After the fire, tens of thousands of residents were left without power for days.

While urban areas use large power systems regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, which has its own emergency response programs, rural communities are left without support, Snyder said.

The bill asks for $5 million annually to provide the grants, with additional federal funds expected to be available after the program is implemented. The bill cleared its first House panel Thursday in an 11-1 vote.

“This is not a partisan issue, it’s a life safety issue,” Snyder said. “We’re here to serve the people of Colorado, and that includes all the people of Colorado. It’s incumbent on the rest of us in Colorado — in the more prosperous, populated counties — to recognize we have a responsibility to our fellow Coloradans in the less wealthy and more remote areas.”

If enacted, the grant program would begin in January 2023 and last until September 2026, if it is not extended.

House Bill 1043 would change the legal definition of motorcycles and autocycles to more accurately record data on motorcycle crashes in Colorado. Currently, autocycles, a three-wheel vehicle resembling a small car, are combined with motorcycles under the law, which defines both vehicles as motor vehicles that operate on the roadway with fewer than four wheels in contact with the roadway.

“They’re lumping everything in together,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Andres Pico, R-Colorado Springs. “The motorcycle crash data includes autocycles, which is a completely different vehicle. The crash data isn’t correct if you have that.”

To date, there are 122 registered autocycles in Colorado, according to state data. Pico said these vehicles inflate the crash data for motorcycles, causing issues with transportation and safety initiatives.

In 2020, 137 people died in motorcycle crashes on Colorado roads — the deadliest year for motorcyclists in the state’s history, according to the Department of Transportation. That number includes any autocycle crashes that occurred during the year.

“As we go through and prioritize transportation projects throughout the state, a lot of the scoring that goes into that includes, among many other factors, crash data,” Pico said. “That’s what this is really about, making sure that the crash data is as accurate as it can be.”

The bill would change the definition of motorcycles to add that a motorcycle needs to have handlebars to steer and a seat the rider sits astride. The definition of autocycle would change to clarify that an autocycle doesn’t use handlebars directly connected to the front tire or tires to steer.

By changing these definitions, the bill would also make it so autocycle drivers wouldn’t be required to have motorcycle endorsements, wouldn’t have to pay the $2 license fee and $4 registration fee for motorcycles and wouldn’t need to wear eye protection or helmets if the autocycle has a maximum speed of no more than 25 mph, has a windshield and has seat belts.

The bipartisan bill passed its first House committee on Tuesday, a victory Pico believes will be the first of many.

“I think the bill will sail on through (the legislature),” Pico said.

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