Will sun and wind fuel our future? | VailDaily.com

Will sun and wind fuel our future?

Judith KohlerVail, CO Colorado
** ADVANCE FOR THE WEEKEND OF JAN 20-21 ** Windmills generate electricity on Colorado's largest wind farm , Colorado Green, south of Lamar, Colo., Jan. 4, 2007. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and his allies in the Legislature are sending a message to the state: The energy future is now __ and its renewable, they say. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER (AP) – Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and his allies in the Legislature are sending a message to the state: The energy future is now – and it’s renewable, they say.Ritter and fellow Democrats who control the state House and Senate announced the first of up to a dozen bills last week that they say are aimed at making Colorado a leader in renewable energy.”The new energy economy is not just a slogan. It’s here already and it’s here to stay,” said House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder.Lawmakers, environmentalists and labor, utility and agriculture representatives outlined their plan at a news conference: require more of the state’s electricity to be generated from alternate energy sources, help speed the construction of transmission lines, reward households and businesses that produce more energy than they consume and help schools and colleges develop and use alternative energy.The road to realizing that dream could be bumpy. Utilities and some Republican lawmakers object to using mandates to develop alternative energy, saying the market – not the government – should be the impetus. And Democratic legislative leaders acknowledge there’s not much state money available for tax breaks and other financial incentives.

Supporters of the renewable energy initiative promote it as both an environmental and economic boon. They want to build on the momentum started two years ago when Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, requiring utilities to get 10 percent of the electricity they sell in the state from renewable energy by 2015.Then came last November’s election victories by Ritter and legislative candidates whose pledges included making Colorado a leader in renewable energy and doubling the state’s use of solar power, wind energy, ethanol and biodiesel.Ritter said that by drawing on the expertise at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden and other federal facilities and universities, Colorado could become a magnet for the industry, attracting manufacturers as well as more wind farms.Colorado also has an abundance of wind and sunny days. The advocacy and trade group American Wind Energy Association rates Colorado as the 11th windiest state in the country and roughly 10th in wind power produced.”The voters have given us a direction and we’re trying to fulfill that direction and go from potential to reality,” said Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden.House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said developing renewable energy shouldn’t depend on mandates but on incentives, such as eliminating the personal property tax on businesses that invest in renewables.”The problem with mandating a supply that isn’t there is that customers will pay for it. It’s just a backdoor tax,” he said.May said the state also has other energy resources it shouldn’t ignore, including coal and gas. Colorado is a focal point of the natural gas boom in the Rockies, a fact acknowledged by Ritter and other renewable energy advocates.Rural electric cooperatives argue that more government mandates will drive up electric rates. The co-ops are owned by their member-customers, and any cost increases are passed on to them, said Jim Van Someren, spokesman for Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which supplies wholesale power to 44 electric cooperatives in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico.”I guess it’s fair to say we’re not huge fans of mandates,” Van Someren said. “We think that we know what’s best for us and our members.”

Sponsors of the proposal to raise the renewable energy standard to 20 percent say it will cost typical residential and commercial customers less than a dollar a month on their bills.Amendment 37 caps price rises at 1 percent, and if consumers’ rates rise more than that because of the measure, the requirement is nullified.Xcel Energy Inc., the largest utility in Colorado, sided with the rural cooperatives in opposing Amendment 37 but is waiting to see the specifics of any new proposals before taking a position this year.”In a philosophical sense, we support renewable energy and will continue to do so in the future,” spokesman Mark Stutz said.Minneapolis-based Xcel is now on a pace to exceed Amendment 37’s requirements by year’s end, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. Xcel uses more wind power than any other utility in the country, according to the American Wind Energy Association.Xcel Energy gets 282 megawatts of its electricity in Colorado from wind power and plans to boost that by another 755 megawatts this year.One megawatt of electricity is enough for about 1,000 customers.Randy Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, said having a utility as supportive of wind power as Xcel Energy helps supporters of the drive to make Colorado a leader in renewable energy.

He said the state’s strategy for reaching that goal sounds viable.”Colorado could become a western home of the wind industry,” Swisher said.

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