Colo. offers 'template' for U.S. on clean power, governor says

Posted: Oct 28, 2010

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Vestas Wind Systems now has four manufacturing plants in Colorado.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter says his state has a story to tell in clean energy, and it may be helpful for other states and Congress to keep their ears open.

Since becoming governor in 2006, the Democrat has signed 57 bills relating to clean energy that boosted the renewable energy standard and provided green-power incentives to rural electric associations and homeowners.

The state also passed the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act this year that established a deadline for the utility Xcel Energy Inc. to eliminate almost 1,000 megawatts of coal-produced power by 2017.

Xcel announced Monday that it will meet that deadline with a $1.3 billion plan for its Front Range coal plants. The company will replace some plants with natural gas and keep others open but install upgraded pollution control equipment.

"We have a story to tell in Colorado. We're proud of that story," Ritter said yesterday at the Green Intelligence Forum in Washington, D.C. "We don't think it's the end of that story at all. It's really only the
beginning. It is perhaps a template for other states to look at."

What Colorado has been able to do, Ritter said, is develop an ecosystem from clean energy that goes from the laboratory to production. His administration started with the concept of developing a "new energy economy" and worked on diversifying the state's energy portfolio, tying in jobs and finding a way to frame climate change.

"We were about to talk about this in terms of things that really are apparent to Coloradans," he said. "[There are] 3 million acres of pine beetle kill now. At the time it was 2 million acres of pine beetle kill. [Coloradans] really get the sense that it is something happening with climate. Part of developing a clean energy economy gives us the opportunity to talk about it in terms of climate."

At the time of Ritter's election, Colorado was voting for its first renewable energy standard, which called for investor-funded utilities to increase the portion of energy derived from renewable sources to 10 percent. The Ritter administration doubled that standard in 2006 and included a standard for rural electric associations. In the past legislative session, that standard was raised to 30 percent.

His administration also began reforming 30-year-old oil and gas drilling rules and the regulatory commission for the industry that at the time was controlled by oil and gas.

"We went in and had a fairly big fight with the industry in my first year as governor," he said.

What came out of the 18-month reform process was the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. The result reduces pollution, emissions and mercury and brings natural gas into the mix, he said.

"The natural gas producers say, 'We can be part of a clean energy economy. We can be part of going
forward and thinking about how emissions reductions can happen and what role we play,'" he said.

Building a clean-energy work force

Colorado has also built up a work force for the clean-power industry, finding finance mechanisms and building a coalition of people over time "who can really support it, who can lobby for it," Ritter said.

The state has focused on community colleges to give people green energy certificates, and it has attracted major renewable energy companies, he said.

Danish Vestas Wind Systems A/S, for example, chose Colorado for its home a month after the state passed its doubling of the voter-approved renewable energy standard. Vestas now has four manufacturing plants in the state with 2,600 jobs and more than a billion dollars' worth of investments.

"For us, this is an anchor tenant of the new energy economy" because Vestas has brought its suppliers in with them, Ritter said.

Ritter said he also pushed investment in research and development, claiming that Colorado has "the best renewable energy research and development corridor in the world" made up of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and consortia between universities.

Companies like Vestas tell the state, "We're coming because you seem committed to this clean energy future, and that's an ecosystem that we want to be part of," Ritter said.

Tips for Obama

Ritter offered pointers yesterday for President Obama that were drawn from his experience in Colorado. When pushing for action on climate change, Ritter said, Obama should make the discussion about energy security and job creation.

"It's three legs to the stool, but the stool stands with just two legs," he said.

"I've worked with fairly conservative Republican governors who say, 'OK, take climate off the table,'" Ritter said. "Make it about energy diversity and make it about job creation, and we're still a country better off if we move in that direction."

Calling himself a "disciple of a national plan," Ritter said he does not agree with regional climate initiatives, which he said are a "volatile way to try and build a carbon market." He suggested that the government consider the Republican offering of a low-carbon standard and it put in place of a
price on carbon.

"As long as you have no price on carbon, those renewables may not look like they really should look," he said, adding that a climate plan for the country will most likely take the shape of a cap-and-dividend plan that returns revenue from polluters to everyone equally.

Ritter urged Obama to address concerns raised by states about U.S. EPA’s aggressive enforcement of the Clean Air Act, referring to states that received non-compliance letters from the agency.

"The president can very much sort of lead that conversation and say, 'We don't want to be the guard dog here. What we want to be is a government that can facilitate your movement in a direction of compliance by showing you how to create jobs, how to incentivize different kinds of job creation, put clean energy policies in your state,'" Ritter said.


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