Colorado’s Clean Energy Revolution Under Attack

By Tom Kenworthy, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Rep. Jon Becker and Gov. John Hickenlooper

Republicans in Colorado are trying to pass legislation to cripple the state’s clean energy agency, which has helped spur a green jobs revolution.

Over the past few years Colorado has earned a reputation as a national leader in promoting and deploying clean renewable energy. It’s adopted a 30 percent renewable energy standard – the nation’s second highest requirement. It’s moving to retire a significant portion of its coal-fired electricity generation. And it’s fostered a robust clean energy economic sector with 1,500 companies and the nation’s fourth highest concentration per capita of clean energy workers.

Part of the credit goes to an executive agency – the Governor’s Energy Office – that works with communities, utilities, and citizens to promote the use of wind, solar and geothermal energy and energy efficiency through grants, loans and educational programs.

But if Republicans in the state legislature have their way, that office will be cut by 25 percent, renamed, and re-purposed to promote coal, oil and natural gas as well as renewables.

“Wind and solar can’t meet all of our demands, so we need to find a way to put in our traditional energy to help all of Colorado,” bill sponsor Rep. Jon Becker (R-CO) told the Denver Business Journal. Becker’s legislation, HB 1312, has passed in the GOP-controlled house and is awaiting action in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority.

New energy companies are worried that enactment of the legislation will send the wrong signal to the renewable industry. Jim Burness, chief operating officer of solar company SolSource, told a legislative hearing that the bill “essentially says that we’re no longer serious about the clean energy economy and they really ought to look elsewhere, like California, Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts.”

If the legislation passes in the Senate before the legislature’s adjournment tomorrow, it will be up to new Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to keep it from becoming law with a veto.

That ought to be a slam dunk, but Hickenlooper, unlike his predecessor Democrat Bill Ritter, has a history of appearing to go wobbly on clean energy and environmental issues. He told the New York Times early this year that Colorado “should drill the living daylights out of natural gas and cut regulation.” And during his campaign last year he said “environmentalists went way overboard” during a state re-write of oil and gas drilling regulations.

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