Renewable energy on Ritter’s mind |

Renewable energy on Ritter’s mind

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Making Colorado the nation’s leader in renewable energy initiatives is one of the cornerstones of Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration, and he intends to drive that point home when he speaks at 3:30 p.m. Friday.In a telephone interview Thursday with The Aspen Times, Ritter said he hopes to accomplish “a lot that hadn’t been done” by previous administrations in the area of energy conservation and renewable energy production.He cited the recent expansion of the amount of renewable energy required from the state’s Rural Electric Associations and from the regulated utilities, which now must produce 20 percent of its power generation from renewable sources within the next 20 years. It used to be 10 percent, and the REAs were not included in the requirement.Given that and other initiatives under way in Colorado, Ritter remarked, “I don’t believe that renewable energy is the only answer” to solving the energy needs of Colorado and the nation.But, he continued, it is his mission to encourage things like the 20/20 rule, creating incentives for utilities to build transmission lines to carry the energy from renewable technologies and success in bringing wind farms and solar energy installations into the state.Ritter said his office just begun its 120-day review of federal recommendations to permit oil and gas drilling on the Roan Plateau, and explained that the state is “keeping it very close to the chest” for the time being.Ritter won the expanded review period – which he called “a fairly modest request” – after U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Denver, held up the nomination of James Caswell as new director for the agency that wrote the plan, the Bureau of Land Management.With more than 5,000 wells already in place in the region surrounding Rifle on the Western Slope – and up to 10 times that many envisioned by what the governor called a “vital and important” industry – Ritter said that “the fairest thing to say is … we’re doing everything we can to make sure that industry thrives.”But that doesn’t include permitting unchecked development without close scrutiny, he said, or without thought to possible technological advances that might make the industry less environmentally damaging.”Ten years ago, no one was using directional drilling,” he noted, referring to a drilling method that leaves undisturbed the ground directly above a gas deposit. “Now, everybody’s doing directional drilling.” He said future advances might allow access to the Roan Plateau reserves without having to resort to drilling on the sensitive mesa top.In other responses to questions from a reporter, the governor: reiterated his agreement with President Bush that “there should be a guest worker policy” as one solution to the nation’s burgeoning immigration controversy, which he termed a problem that “can’t be handled only by enforcement;” pledged that his administration is “looking really hard” at the transporation and traffic woes being experienced by the Roaring Fork Valley and other remote regions of the state, pointing to the recent creation of a “blue ribbon commission” to examine the issue and to his staff’s talks with local officials about the problems. He said he expects recommendations from the commission by the end of November, but cautioned that funding will be a difficult hurdle for some time to come; predicted that the state will do what it can to deal with the mountain pine beetle infestation that has devastated vast sections of the Rocky Mountain forests, prompting heightened wildfire fears, and has recently been spotted in trees in and around Aspen.Calling the infestation part of “a natural cycle” that has been worsened by recent regional temperature increases, he said, “We’re doing everything we can as a state government to be involved in fire protection” for communities hit hard by the dying of nearby forests.In addition, he said, the state is talking with various federal agencies about ways to boost the health of the forest over time.John Colson’s e-mail address