Ritter’s legacy clean on energy

Gov. Bill Ritter says he doesn’t care what his legacy will be when he leaves office in January, but it’s clear what that is.

The new-energy economy.

So it was fitting earlier this month, on the last day Ritter had to sign the final bills of his administration, that the governor chose to enact legislation dealing with renewable energy and job-training programs related to the emerging industry in the state.

“What I believe is that we could chart a whole different path on clean energy and that we could become a national model for what could happen in developing clean energy in the United States,” Ritter said. “I’ve signed 56 bills that are public policy matters that do more than just start this. We’ve moved such a long way in the direction of garnering international attention where clean energy development is concerned.”

Momentum for renewable energy began building with a ballot question in 2004 to enact a standard, which required the state’s main power companies to generate at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, biomass and solar.

But since Ritter came to office in 2006, he’s pushed that standard first to 20 percent, and now 30 percent, in part because such power companies as Xcel Energy told him they were years ahead in meeting it and would have no trouble doing more.

At the same time, Ritter and the Legislature enacted laws meant to encourage renewable energy use and train Coloradans to work at the wind farms, turbine factories, biomass facilities and solar power plants that have started cropping up around the state.

Some of the state’s leading environmental groups have had a field day over the past few years in seeing Colorado focus on renewable energy as never before.

“One of the most exciting things about having Ritter champion renewable energy is we’ve been able to make huge steps forward on policy matters that’s helped build a movement to doing more, which I think is an important part of his legacy,” said Pam Kiely, program director for Environment Colorado. “Having clean energy on his radar screen has gotten others thinking about it. People have invested a lot into it now, so there’s an incredible amount of momentum.”

Though Kiely worries that momentum might wane depending on who the next governor is, she doesn’t believe it will go away.

Democrat John Hickenlooper and the two GOP candidates for governor said they would continue to focus on clean energy, though each said the state shouldn’t turn its back on natural gas, oil and coal.

Hickenlooper spokesman George Merritt said Ritter has laid the foundation for clean energy, saying Colorado is starting to reap the benefits from it and the next governor needs to carry that forward.

“Colorado has branded itself as an innovator in clean energy,” Merritt said. “We want to build on that as we would every sector of the energy business.”

But the Republican candidates, former U.S. congressman Scott McInnis and Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, said that while the governor’s push to expand renewable sources in the state is laudable, it’s been done at the expense of the old energy economy.

“I appreciate the theory of new and renewable energy and it should be part of our energy platform as we move forward, but Bill Ritter almost destroyed our legacy energy industries — natural gas, oil and uranium — at the expense of his agenda,” Maes said. “It was way out of balance. We must have good access and production of our legacy industries while we develop new energy.”

McInnis echoed those sentiments, saying that electricity from renewable energy is a small part of the state’s resources.

Problem is, it’s not sustainable, at least not yet, he said.

“All energy’s got to be looked at and it’s got to be sustainable,” McInnis said. “We are a long ways off from sustainability on renewables. We’ve got to be realistic about this. Rule No. 1 is you’ve got to protect the ratepayer. You can’t have imaginary goals.”

McInnis said renewable energy won’t reach sustainability unless there’s more of a market for it, but Xcel spokesman Tom Henley said that’s what the renewable standard, tax rebates and other new programs are designed to do.

In addition to creating its own clean-energy sources, Xcel buys electricity from such private renewable projects as solar fields in the San Luis Valley and wind farms on the eastern plains.

“We wouldn’t have agreed to a standard if we didn’t think we could meet it,” Henley said. “We’re strong supporters of renewable energy.”

Ritter said pushing clean energy has helped the state clear the air, create jobs and boost rural economies, something that’s become especially crucial as the nation claws its way out of the worst recession in decades.

He said it would be foolhardy for the next governor to turn his back on all that progress.

“If you look at all of the things that we did, whether it’s energy efficiency or net metering or incentivizing the build-out of transmission lines, we have done the things we said we were going to do,” Ritter said.

“So anybody who looks at the sum total of the jobs and the kind of economic development we’ve been able to do around those jobs and the level of income that’s a result of it, they would be on a fool’s errand to do anything other than wildly promote it.”


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