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Colorado Voters Pass Renewable Energy Standard

In a major victory for renewable energy advocates in Colorado, voters in the state approved Amendment 37 on Tuesday's election day. This is the first time in the Nation's history that a renewable energy portfolio standard was put directly before voters rather than processed through a state's legislature.

The initiative requires the state's largest utilities to obtain 3 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2007 and 10 percent by 2015 as well as establish a standard net metering system for homeowners and ranchers with small photovoltaic (PV) systems to connect to the power grid. The measure also calls for 4 percent of the mandated amount of renewable energy to come from solar resources. According to the Associated Press, with 90 percent of precincts reporting, 912,008 voters, or 52 percent, had backed the proposal while 829,364, or 48 percent, opposed it. These close margins echo the long, hard road for a renewable energy standard in Colorado. Legislation for a renewable portfolio standard sponsored by Republican Lola Spradley failed to pass into law earlier in 2004. "Reducing our nation and our state's reliance on foreign energy is an issue that should cross all party lines," Spradley said in a statement. It was the fourth time Colorado's legislators had rejected RPS legislation. Despite the sting of the legislative loss, proponents of a renewable energy standard decided to ask voters directly through a ballot initiative, where it ultimately found success. The measure has faced consistent and strong resistance from electric utility companies, particularly Xcel Energy. Facing the possibility that voters could force the utility to use more renewable energy, Xcel Energy mounted a full-scale attack campaign in the weeks prior to election day. While the federal government has done nothing to mandate national standards for renewables, states have themselves been a major driving force behind renewable energy, enacting their own mandates. Renewable energy industries and advocates form across the nation have been keenly aware of this progress and many eyes were on Colorado this election day. "Noting that Colorado's legislature has failed to act, Ballot Initiative 37 affords the citizens of Colorado an alternative means for moving the state's economy towards a cleaner energy future," was the collective message from the Washington DC-based Sustainable Energy Coalition, a 21-member group of business, environmental, and energy policy members who work to support renewable energy at the national level. The organization noted that while Colorado is endowed with abundant solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydroelectric resources, the state presently produces only 2 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. Already 16 other states have enacted renewable energy requirements for their utilities and many require an even higher percentage of electrical generation to be from renewable energy than envisioned by Initiative 37. New Mexico, for example, requires 10 percent renewable electricity by 2011, four years ahead of the Colorado proposal. Nevada requires 15 percent renewable electricity by 2013. New York State recently required that 25 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2013. The Sustainable Energy Coalition itself has called for a national renewable energy standard directing that no less than 20 percent of the nation's electricity should be generated by renewable energy resources by 2020, in addition to that already provided by hydropower. Presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry called for the same national mandate. At the time of this article's publication, his odds for securing the presidency appear bleak.

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