Ritter: Colorado advancing ‘new energy economy’ | VailDaily.com

Ritter: Colorado advancing ‘new energy economy’

Judith Kohler
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said Tuesday that with the help of legislators and business, his 10-month-old administration has begun blazing a path to the “new energy economy” that he championed while running for office.

Ritter said Colorado is uniquely situated to be a national leader in energy because of its resources: abundant sun, wind, coal and gas.

“We recognized very early on, a couple years ago,” Ritter said, “that this was an important part of Colorado’s future, for us to talk about energy issues and to talk about them in a way differently than other people had talked about them at the leadership level.”

Ritter spoke at a sold-out energy conference attended by 550 people. The size of the crowd underscores the topic’s interest and importance, Ritter said.

The conference, co-sponsored by the governor’s energy office, was the culmination of eight forums the Colorado Public Utilities Commission sponsored across the state.

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Ron Binz, chairman of the PUC, which regulates investor-owned utilities, said the goal was to hear what people thought about Ritter’s “explicit platform.”

He said 65 people turned out for a meeting in Springfield, a town of 1,200 in far southeast Colorado, and said they wanted more transmission lines built so more wind farms could be built in the area.

A 108-turbine wind farm near Lamar in southeastern Colorado generates electricity for Xcel Energy.

Expanding the regional transmission network so Colorado can export more of its energy is one of the state’s goals, Ritter and Binz said. A new law created an authority that will explore ways to finance transmission lines in rural areas.

Another new law doubled the amount of renewable energy the state’s larger utilities must sell. The law boosts the requirement to 20 percent by 2020, up from the 10 percent by 2015 mandated by voters in 2004.

Rural electric cooperatives and all but the smallest municipal utilities will have to get 10 percent of their power from such renewable sources as wind and solar by 2020.

Ritter and Binz both stressed that oil, gas and coal will continue to be a critical part of the economy. Binz said about 70 percent of the electricity sold in Colorado is from coal and 25 percent is from natural gas.

The rest is a mix of hydroelectric power and other renewable sources.

Colorado is experiencing an energy boom driven by vast reserves of natural gas. It is the country’s sixth-largest natural gas producer and the seventh-largest coal producer.

Ritter said Colorado is also the sixth-sunniest state, the ninth-windiest and the fourth-best for geothermal potential.

Add to Colorado’s resources the “intellectual horsepower” of the state’s research universities, federal science labs and businesses attracted by the research facilities, and Colorado is uniquely situated to be a national energy leader, Ritter said.

“So we can combine this traditional energy economy with this renewable energy economy and get to a place where we call it the new energy economy,” Ritter said.

The governor acknowledged that the oil and gas industry has expressed concerns with his focus on nontraditional energy, but he said he understands the economic power of oil, gas and coal.

“It is $23 billion a year in revenue as an industry,” Ritter said, “and we want that industry to thrive.”

He added, though, that his administration will monitor the impacts of energy development.

“We will not build out that economy, we will not build out that industry on the back of air quality or water quality or our wildlife,” Ritter said.

New laws requiring more input on health, wildlife and environmental concerns when making decisions about energy development have stirred concerns in the oil and gas industry. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees development, has been expanded to include more members from outside the industry.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of legislators warned that all the changes could dampen the industry’s growth, costing jobs and state revenue from taxes and other fees.


On the Net:

Colorado Governor’s Energy Office: http://www.colorado.gov/energy/

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