Penry clings to past as renewable energy program advances

Leading his entire Republican caucus to vote against Governor Bill Ritter’s proposed renewable energy standard expansion, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry seems at war with himself.

In one persona he is a forward-looking conservative visionary who takes the new energy future seriously. But when the opportunity comes to actually move forward, he clings to the past and resists progress.

Penry “has been an outspoken supporter of efforts to expand wind, solar, and other renewable energy supplies in Colorado,” the Senate Minority Leader’s Facebook page informs us.

Penry repeated that assertion last September. “I think that renewable energy is important, and I’ve supported a number of the governor’s renewable energy policies ... And he’s been right to push wind and solar,” he told the Colorado Statesman.

He even criticized Republicans for usually saying, “Renewable energy is important but ... And then they spend the next 10 minutes trashing renewable energy ... No. Renewable energy is important.”

But that aspect of Penry’s political persona was not evident last Friday. Penry led the Republican caucus to vote against legislation that enacts Ritter’s plan to expand Colorado’s renewable energy standard.

HB 1001 increases the current requirement that 20 percent of electricity be generated from renewable energy sources to 30 percent by 2020.

The new standard only applies to Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy. City utilities and rural cooperatives will still be required the meet a standard of 10 percent.

The bill requires that 3 percent of renewable power generation come from “distributed generation.” This requirement will stimulate installation of small and medium solar power plants on rooftops and commercial properties.

Senate Democrats have also promoted the legislation as essential to creating skilled, high-paying jobs.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs. That is our primary focus for this session and this bill,” Sen. Bruce Whitehead said. “The renewable energy standard will cement our position as the premier location for new-energy-economy companies to come and create new jobs.”

A press release from the governor’s office announcing the bill claimed it would “give Colorado the best clean-energy requirement in the Rocky Mountain West, create thousands of new jobs and lead to 100,000 solar rooftops over the next decade.”

These estimates are supported by a recent study released by conservation groups Environment Colorado and Vote Solar. Over the next decade, the report concludes, the higher mandate could generate as many as 23,000 new jobs in Colorado.

Penry also is committed to expanding jobs. But he is apparently not interested in the kind of jobs that would be created by passage of the expanded renewable energy standard.

He would like to see a miraculous return of the natural gas drilling boom. He appears to believe nullification of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rules and new subsidies for the industry are all that are required to make that happen.

“Republicans need to get off the anti-renewable gig,” Penry said. But “Democrats are going to have to recognize that we have to aggressively produce conventional sources of energy.”

Penry also objects to the bill because he considers it friendly to labor.

One provision of HB 1001 would require that solar panels must be installed by, or under the supervision of, an “energy practitioner” certified by the American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners to qualify for subsidies.

Only a licensed master or journeyman electrician would qualify to do electrical work under the rebate program.

Led by Penry, who claimed to detect “the foul odor of special interests,” Republicans claimed these requirements were put in for the benefit of unions. “They are central planning that would make the old Soviets blush,” Penry said, according to The Durango Herald.

That overstates the case. It is possible for workers to qualify for certification by attending a community college or commercial trade school.

However, the bill has union support, and no doubt they expect their members to benefit from it.

Penry and his Republican cabal are so intent on resisting any legislation that benefits labor, that they overlook the obvious problem of not certifying installers. Allowing poorly trained or inexperienced low-wage workers to undertake the complex task of wiring thousands of homes and commercial buildings for solar generation is a prescription for disaster.

“My children, your children, our future relies on finding sources of energy other than what we already have,” Whitehead said. HB 1001 is the next step forward for Colorado.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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