Colorado to Take Bold Steps in Renewable Energy

Following in the footsteps of re-elected Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, newly elected Democratic Governor Bill Ritter from Colorado pledged to establish “….Colorado as a national leader in renewable energy” in his first State of the State address on January 11th.

As part of his proposal, Ritter, a former District Attorney for the City of Denver, has laid out infrastructure plans including assisting in the building of high voltage transmission lines to take advantage of wind power across Colorado’s Great Plains, converting the State’s fleet vehicles to a hybrid of flex-fuel and mandating energy efficiency compliance with new and renovated State Buildings. In terms of technology, Ritter is planning to create a Clean Energy Fund to “…help with the technology transfer of research to the marketplace” as well as increase the use and development of bio fuels in Colorado. The governor also asked the state legislature to double the mandated renewable portfolio standard to 20%. Amendment 37, passed by voters in 2004, requires the state’s top utility companies to provide a percentage of retail electricity sales from renewable resources beginning with three percent in 2007, six percent by 2011 and 10 percent by 2015. All of Ritter’s agenda items are expected to be in full swing when the City of Denver plays host to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Those individuals and organizations involved with renewable energy in the state couldn’t be happier about the recent renewable energy legislation and activity, which will “…remain insanely busy,” according to Beth Hart, President of the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association (CoSEIA) and co-owner of AC Solar. “Training and education will continue to be a key for us for this all to work,” noted Hart. Craig Cox, the executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance, a western states trade association focusing on the nation’s renewable energy industry echoed Hart’s comments. “This is instrumental in moving the ball forward on renewable energy and we appreciate the new emphasis Governor Ritter is giving to renewable energy in Colorado,” said Cox. Both Hart and Cox agreed that consistent long term state and Federal policies are needed. Speaking on wind power Cox noted that “…it is hard to plan these material intensive projects without consistent policy signals for your business model.” Hart is hoping for a more consistent state wide RPS and incentive program. Currently only customers of Xcel Energy and Aquila are covered under the rebate program that includes both a payment and a 20 year purchase of the renewable energy certificates. The rural and municipal districts are voluntary. “All of the rural and municipal utility districts’, Xcel’s and Aquila’s solar rebate and REC programs are slightly different.” said Hart. “This just increases our time on a project increasing our costs to operate.” While things are not 100 percent perfect, both Hart and Cox were very pleased with the governor’s pledge. “There is not a PV installer in the State that is not grateful and joyous to hear this from the Governor,” said Hart. “Not only in solar but other renewable energy. This was part of Ritter’s campaign and to hear him in the State of the State, this means a great deal to all of us and the environment.” Colorado, already in the forefront of renewable energy, is the 11th windiest state in the nation. In addition, an 8 megawatt (MW) solar plant owned and operated by Sun Edison is being developed in the state and construction on a 274-turbine, 300 MW wind farm is already under way in Weld County through a partnership between BP Alternative Energy North America and Babcock & Brown Operating Partners, LTC However, it is clear from the comments by Hart and Cox that the same issues plaguing Colorado — such as not having state wide implementations that are efficient to execute and long term federal policy — renewable energy will continue to have its challenges in 2007 as the U.S. looks to diversify its energy sources. Chuck Hornbrook provides consulting services to renewable, clean tech and GHG accounting. He holds an MBA and MS in environmental studies from the University of Michigan lives and works in San Francisco. He can be reached at
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