Championing a worthy (and earthy) cause |

Championing a worthy (and earthy) cause

During my campaign for the State Senate, along with Bill Ritter and numerous other candidates for the state legislature in 2006, we championed the cause of renewable energy. It was not a hard call. Across the board, increasing our state’s commitment to renewable energy is right for Colorado: it helps secure our nation’s energy independence, it spurs job growth and economic development in Colorado (an estimated $2 billion worth!), it adds a whole new dimension to the sustainability of our family farms and ranches, and it reduces the carbon footprint on our environment.Ever since my election to the State Senate for District 5, I have sought to make good on my campaign promise. With the staunch support of Governor Ritter and House co-sponsor, Rep. Jack Pommer, we co-sponsored House Bill 1281, a bill which doubled our state’s commitment to the production and use of power from renewable and sustainable energy sources. This will increase the renewable energy standard that investor-owned utilities such as Xcel must meet from 10 percent to 20 percent by 2020. HB1281 also sets the first renewable energy standard for large municipalities and all rural electric cooperatives in Colorado. Under this legislation, all rural electric cooperatives have agreed to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020.HB 1281 for new renewable portfolio standards offers Colorado a chance to drive the state economy toward a stronger future. After the recession in 2003 brought hardships to many Coloradoans, the state needs legislation to rejuvenate areas such as the San Luis Valley, which has been hit hard financially. By expanding the types of renewable energy that can be qualified for utilities to use, we create stronger support for solar, wind, and biomass energy. This will enable the Southern regions of Colorado can take advantage of the strong wind gusts for wind energy and the fertile agricultural lands for biomass fuels. This in turn can help promote new businesses and jobs in the area and increase the flow of money into our communities. This will help many hardworking families and their households, and in turn promote better healthcare, creating a stronger educated community, and greater investment in personal savings and the thriving economy.I am honored to have played a role in helping to realize the vision of thousands of like-minded and committed individuals throughout Colorado’s agricultural, environmental, and renewable energy communities. Special kudos go out to the leadership demonstrated by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Conservation Voters, Environment Colorado, and Interwest Energy Alliance.As a state, we should be doing everything possible to encourage conservation, the production of renewable energy, and limit the use of fossil fuels. To my mind, that’s just common sense, and should not provoke partisan debate. Unfortunately, however, it does. Typical arguments against renewable energy standards include concerns that utility bills will increase. HB1281 protects rate payers from any significant rate increases by including a 2 percent rate increase cap for investor-owned utilities and a 1 percent rate increase cap for rural electric cooperatives. There are also questions as to why a mandate is needed. Mandates that include required renewable portfolio standards and incentives for local built projects help attract industry by showing the state’s commitment to the renewable energy economy. There are also arguments that residential renewable energy modifications like small wind turbines and solar panels are too cost prohibitive for most people to add to their homes. In addition to working with Community Energy Funds and the State Office of Energy Management and Conservation on loan and grant programs, the legislature has passed State Bill 145 to allow local governments to offer incentives for various types of residential and commercial renewable energy fixtures. I’m glad to report that HB1281 received broad bipartisan support. Despite some opposition it carried the Senate by a vote of 27 to 8 and carried the House by a vote of 59 to 5.We all deserve to savor this win, as Governor Ritter so rightly noted last Tuesday, while signing HB1281 into law on a beautiful morning at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Wind Test Center in Boulder.Next up is Senate Bill 91, a bill to map all of the renewable energy opportunities state-wide – wind, solar, biomass, biofuel, ethanol, geothermal and hydro – including sorely needed additions to our transmission capabilities in rural Colorado. I’m optimistic about its passage, and will be back to you soon with a further report.Until then, let me just say that it’s an honor to represent the citizens of Senate District 5. Thank you.Gail Schwartz is Aspen’s state senator, representing Senate District 5. She lives in Snowmass Village.

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