Why Colorado Matters in National Policy Making

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Eight years ago I gave the commencement address for the Colorado State University – College of Agriculture Sciences graduates.  Colorado citizens had just voted to establish the first citizens-initiated portfolio standard in America, Amendment 37.  The initiative, an epic 'David v. Goliath' story that only came about after three failed attempts in the Republican-controlled state legislature in the years 2002-2004 to find a legislative remedy.  Initiated by activists in the Boulder corridor, the amendment has served to benefit urban and rural interests alike: Xcel customers have experienced a greater stability in their cost structure, rural Colorado is home to nearly $6 billion in wind developments – bringing with it a strong tax base and jobs – and the platform for the Ritter-era New Energy Economy was born.

But as I stood on that platform in Ft. Collins on that evening in December of 2005, little did I know that our recent success at the ballot box would, eight years hence, serve as a platform for the White House and our Department of Defense to accelerate a new energy future. Amendment 37 buoyed a then-nascent "25x'25" alliance – a group of agriculturally-centric leaders who saw the opportunity for rural America to both participate and lead the almost-certain energy transition.  A goal: 25% of America's energy coming from renewables by the year 2025 – a year that seemed light years away.

As a co-founder of the alliance, it became obvious to me that magnifying the Colorado success in to a national platform was a winning combination.  And Colorado stepped to the plate.  The Denver Post was the first major US newspaper to endorse our vision; the Rocky Mountain Farmer Union and Colorado Farm Bureau were the first groups amongst their national organization to give us a 'thumbs up'.  The Colorado legislature, in a bi-partisan resolution supporting the vision, lead by Senator Mark Hillman and Representative Wes McKinley, became the template for over 30 state legislatures to follow.  Colorado State University was the first land grant university in the nation to get behind us.  The Delta-Montrose Rural Electric Association was the first rural electric in America to officially endorse the cause. Tracee Bentley, a former Farm Bureau lobbyist and now Legislative Director for Governor Hickenlooper, served as our western states coordinator for state alliance development.

In Washington, then-Congressman Mark Udall (the co-chair of the Amendment 37 campaign) and then-Senator Ken Salazar were the 'Captiol Hill Champions' for our cause, serving as prime co-sponsors for what embedded "25x'25" as a national goal into the 2007 Energy Act – and still, today, will be caught mentioning "25x'25" in presentations. During the Ritter era, Colorado became known as a global leader in the energy transition; today, Bill Ritter leads the Colorado State University-based Center for the New Energy Economy and was intricately involved in the development of the White House initiative, "Powering Forward: Presidential and Executive Agency Actions to Drive Clean Energy in America"

Those collective Colorado actions are a living example of the Butterfly Effect – a small change at one place (a 10% state energy standard)  in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state – (transforming the worlds most powerful military).

In eight, short years Colorado has gone from a state controlled by the tight grip of a fossil-centric government – to a state just slightly less controlled by those same interests.   We've advanced our original 10% renewable energy standard to a 30% standard (by 2020); we've done so with none of the apocalyptic effects predicted by the coal interests in 2004. Boulder has taken on the proverbial Goliath, Xcel, and is moving forward with municipalization.  The  Colorado legislature has imposed a reasonable 20% renewable electric standard on Colorado rural electrics. The LaPlata Rural Electric board in the last week has battled, and elected, a majority of renewable energy advocates to its board of directors.  The Wray School District is powered 100% by wind energy and sells it's excess to the City of Wray, trapping their energy dollars locally and generating new income for the school.

There are small sparks of hope in nearly any corner of our great state.

Last Friday a Colorado court ruled the Local Control Initiative, Initiative 75, may go forward with signature gathering.  The hysteria from business and industry sounds eerily familiar:  an economy that will collapse; an economy that couldn't possibly survive without the tether of fossil-fuel nozzle to suckle upon. Rising costs. Like our efforts to lead in the nation in a the renewable energy transition, this initiative, too, will have national implications.  Can and will Colorado citizens step up and put a measure of balance between an arguably-untethered industry and the vision of local communities for what their future should look like? Will the industry finally be taken to task on its unreasonably-low severance taxes?  And eight years from now, will we reflect upon a movement, birthed in Colorado, that changed our nation's energy course?  I believe we will; I think we have entered a time in history where Coloradans will demonstrate that no amount of money is a substitute for an engaged democracy.  And like the detractors of that seemingly-benign group of Coloradans who stepped to the plate in 2004 – 2014 will be a great bookend to capstone our leadership on the national scene in the necessary evolution to a new energy future.


3 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. mamajama55 says:

    The history of the 25 by 25 movement is interesting – Colorado really has been a national leader in renewable development.  And will continue to be! We do have more sunny hours per year (not days – sorry) than any other state.

    I'm still working on a diary about Pueblo's energy trials and tribulations, which are mostly self-inflicted, since the City Council agreed to let a monopoly supply its electrical power.  Black Hills energy monopoly powers most of the town, and gouges consumers, has no social conscience, and punishes businesses that install solar energy. 

    I looked into the local energy co-ops – but they are not renewable friendly.  The local co-ops , San Isabel and Holy Cross, charge consumers for installing solar, but no doubt, still gripe about that 20% requirement.

    There is some support for municipalizing, but no one seems to have a real plan, possibly because the town is locked into a fricking 20 year agreement with Black Hills.  It's a bit frustrating – the only plan at the moment is Rep. Garcia's bill 1398 to tweak the law so that Black Hills can't keep on raising the rates any time it decides to. That bill has been laid over until fall – meanwhile, Black Hills will ask for and probably get its next rate increase.

    Black Hills claims that they need the rate increase to reimburse for a wind plant that they built – I wonder if they intend to charge consumers to use wind energy, as well as having us pay up front for building the plant.

    I know I'm whining, but my point is that just advocating for renewables and clean energy choices is not enough – we have to take into account who is profiting, what are consumers getting, where the money comes from and where it goes. Now if Colorado can lead in those things, too, that will really create some national motion.


    • MichaelBowman says:

      I look forward to your diary, MMJ.  Pueblo had such an incredible opportunity to municipalize and control its future before they allowed the sale to Black Hills.  At the time there was a small group of us working on that opportunity – and it included a very interesting Denver-based politico who was in a position to help us secure that vision. 

      You may not remember this, but at that time the city's service provider was buying its electricity wholesale from Xcel and that wholesale supply agreement was coming to a close.  Xcel was convinced they would end up with Pueblo by default.  When that didn't happen, Black Hills built the natural gas plants at the airport and stuck you, the Pueblo ratepayer, with the cost recovery.  It really was a tragedy…a tragedy of the commons, if you will.  Now you're stuck with an IOU that is driven by (guaranteed) double-digit returns – in a town drowning in solar resources, adjoining rural electrics that are awash in wind and the inability to even push energy-efficiency programs of any meaningful scale in to you mix.

      Short of a citizens revolt (which should happen) there will contine to be a lot of lip service to the ratepayer – and nothing meaningful will happen.  I hope you'll take that as a *challenge*!  🙂 

    • MichaelBowman says:

      I read through the [flawed] study once again.  [sigh].  Reminds me of the old saying 

      “figures will not lie,” but a new saying is “liars will figure.” It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring; in other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish.

      I'd be interested in the study's application to Colorado's electrical sector.  Sixty-four percent of state's electricity still is generated by coal – an energy resource that is predominantely imported to Colorado from the Powder River Basin.  You've seen the coal trains along I-25 between Denver and Pueblo.  Every one of those trains represents dollars flowing out of our economy and dollars (local tax base, jobs, revenue to our state treasury) that we lose.  While it appears the trains return to Wyoming empty, that's hardly the case: they're loaded with Colorado dollars that are filling a Wyoming trust fund that serves to educate their children and maintain their roads.

      Every electron generated by those Wyoming coal resources could be displaces with local energy – trapping billions in our economy annually.  Using the CU logic, a case could be made for displacing coal-fired power with renewables – with equal or more dramatic effects on our job market, business opportunities and an improving environment.

      I won't hold my breath waiting for that study to be commissioned…

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