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Colorado Clean Energy Win

This article originally appeared on Think Progress.
By Ryan Koronowski

Image Credit: Glenn J. Asakawa

Image Credit: Glenn J. Asakawa

Colorado residents will now be able to enjoy even more clean energy coming out of their outlets, along with cleaner air and less carbon pollution.

After nearly two days of strenuous debate, Colorado’s House of Representatives voted shortly before midnight Friday night to strengthen the state’s successful renewable energy standard (RES). The bill, which has already passed the Senate and is supported by Governor Hickenlooper, will increase the clean energy standard to 25 percent for rural electric cooperatives by 2020 — a 15 percentage point jump from the current 10 percent. This would mean in seven years, rural areas of Colorado will benefit from one-quarter of their energy portfolio being derived from renewable sources.

These efforts proved successful despite:

  • attacks from the conservative American Tradition Institute, including an ongoing lawsuit that argues the RES is unconstitutional
  • previous attempts from state representatives to pass American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) “model” bills to fully repeal the standard (documented across the country)
  • sudden opposition to expanding the RES from utility interests like the Colorado Rural Electric Association, an organization that had actually supported a broader RES in 2007 as renewable energy prices dropped

Prior to the vote, Democratic State Representatives made strong arguments about diversifying their energy portfolios and how important it is to decrease carbon pollution. Rep. Max Tyler, author of the 2010 law increasing the standard to 30 percent for utilities, explained how his own utility bill was cheaper than those in rural electric cooperatives because renewable energy prices have dropped steadily. Speaker Pro Tempore Claire Levy reported that the utility Xcel found that increasing its share of renewables was good for its bottom line, and because this bill included a 2 percent rate cap, ratepayers would be protected. Responding to arguments that the bill is an “assault” on rural Colorado, Levy said that instead, the bill would allow rural areas to benefits from the economic activity generated by the higher standards in other areas. In the end, the bill passed the House by voice vote.

In 2004, Coloradans were the first to approve a renewable energy standard by ballot initiative. The Centennial State has already seen the benefits of implementing and expanding a robust RES. In fact, from 2005 to 2010, the clean technology sector grew by 32 percent. This growth has led to the creation of 1,600 clean technology companies that employ over 19,000 workers, which ranks Colorado fourth nationally in clean energy jobs. In fact, the clean technology sector was the only sector in the state to show growth in 2010.

Coloradans also overwhelmingly support the policy, with 72 percent of the state agreeing that “rather than using more coal, we should move toward cleaner sources of energy,” a view held across party lines. Prior to the vote, nearly 4,000 Coloradans signed CREDO Action’s petition in support of the bill, which urged the Colorado representatives to “Please vote yes on SB 252 to ensure that Colorado continues its transition to clean sources of energy.”

Expanding Colorado’s renewable energy standard will not only continue to create clean jobs in Colorado, it will also reduce soot, smog, mercury, and carbon pollution from the state’s electricity sector. This legislation would promote investments in small-scale projects that will allow rural landowners to benefit by leasing land for wind farms — creating an additional income stream, as well as allow additional credits for renewable sources.

In fact, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wind energy provides 10 times more local tax revenue than a coal-fired power plant in Colorado. If enacted, the legislation would clean up the grid for at least 100,000 Coloradans served by rural cooperatives and bring them closer to the 30 percent renewable target that urban customers enjoy.

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