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Initiative pushes renewable energy

Cliff Thompson

VAIL You can expect to hear plenty about renewable energy between now and the November general election, and this time you’ll be asked to do something about it.You’ll be asked to decide whether to require the state’s seven largest public utilities – which generate electric power – to create 10 percent of their electrical power with renewable generating sources such as wind, solar, biomass or geothermal by 2015. At present, 2 percent of electrical energy in Colorado is created by using renewable sources. The remainder is largely generated by coal and to a lesser degree, gas-fired generators.The measure was brought to the ballot this summer through a citizen initiative called Renewable Energy, led by a group that gathered 114,000 signatures and successfully petitioned the state Legislature to have the measure on the ballot. That group includes Colorado House Speaker Lola Spradley, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, the Democratic congressman who represents Eagle County.”We want to tell power producers that we as a state think that wind and sun and hydro power and biomass and geothermal energy makes good economic and environmental sense,” Udall said. “Time is wasting. The state Legislature has come close to putting this in place three times. Last time it failed by a hair.”The proposal would cap the amount consumers would be charged at 50 cents a month and would generate something else – jobs in rural communities – where wind and solar generating stations could supplement the meager incomes of farmers and ranchers, Udall said.

The measure is being strongly opposed by the state’s largest utility companies, such as Xcel and Tri State Generating and Transmission. They have formed a group called Citizens for Responsible Energy Choices to fight the measure.”The historical difficulty with renewable energy has been price,” said Mark Stutz of Xcel. There comes a point where you have to be practical about where you want to be.”Stutz said the additional cost of bringing renewable energy on line – estimated at as much as $1 billion over the next 20 years – would be largely borne by the business community. Stutz said the utilities opposing the measure also are critical of the rebates it would make available for people installing solar energy systems. Some of those, he said, could range as high as $200,000. “If someone could put in that elaborate a system, it seems like it’s benefiting a select few,” he said.He also said that energy from wind and solar is only available about 30 percent of the time. That claim was contested by proponents.”Those old arguments have been dispelled,” Udall said. “The wind is always blowing somewhere. We have over 300 days of sunshine a year. If you look at wind, it is cost-effective. It’s less expensive than coal on a per-kilowatt hour basis.”Udall said decreasing dependence on fossil fuels would have multiple benefits. The new sources of energy would create jobs and result in cleaner air. Proponents estimate that having 10 percent of electrical energy created by renewable sources would remove the same amount of air pollutants generated by 600,000 automobiles.

Another consideration is water conservation. Fossil fuel plants gobble water, Udall said. Proponents estimate that generating plants use up to 20 billion gallons – enough water to fill Summit County’s Lake Dillon nearly two and one-half times or to supply 134,000 single-family households for a year.Sixteen of the 50 states in this country have enacted renewable energy regulations. In Maine, 30 percent of the state’s electrical needs are met by hydro-generating stations. In Arizona, about 1.1 percent of the state’s energy needs are met by solar power.”This initiative will provide greater energy security for Colorado and the country,” said Manolo Gonzales-Estay, spokesman for the initiative. “It will reduce our dependence on unstable fuel sources from the Middle East. Fossil fuel prices are going up and renewable energy is coming down. The utility companies don’t want to be pressured to do this. This makes sense for Colorado.”Xcel Energy’s new 108 turbine wind farm near Lamar in southeastern Colorado will save customers $4.5 million in the first year it is in production.”Consumers want this,” Udall said. “There’s rampant indication that consumers will buy green power.”Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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