Adoption of renewable energy standards — which require electric utility companies to produce a portion of their electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources — has considerably driven clean energy advances in recent years.
Some 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted hard targets for renewable energy production with another eight states setting renewable energy goals. Standards place an obligation on electricity-supply companies to reach set targets, while renewable energy goals are voluntary for companies — although states might incentivize a utility for reaching a set goal. Collectively, state renewable energy standards have supported the development of more than 33,000 megawatts of new renewable power through 2011 and by 2025 will provide 10 percent of the nation’s current electric generation capacity.
But legislators in at least 14 states have introduced bills that would water down or repeal the mandates. So far only Montana is on the verge of wiping out the renewable energy standard entirely by including existing hydropower facilities. SB 31 has passed both chambers and is awaiting Governor Steve Bullock’s decision.
Organizations like the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Council, or ALEC, and Koch-backed Grover Norquist have been lobbying against renewable energy policies, and pushing “model legislation” to undo these standards.
The good news is that the Colorado Senate has bucked the trend and will soon pass SB 252 — sponsored by state Senate President John Morse. The Senate still must have a third and final vote on the bill. SB 252 will raise the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent for rural electric cooperatives by 2020 — an increase from 10 percent.
SB 252 will affect two main cooperative associations: Tri-State Generation & Transmission, which is the state’s second-largest utility and provides electricity to 18 Colorado member cooperatives, and the Intermountain Rural Electric Association. Cooperatives in Colorado serve 70 percent of the state’s landmass but 25 percent of the population. Tri-State has sought to block the legislation.
Colorado became the first state to create a renewable energy standard by ballot initiative when voters approved Amendment 37 in November of 2004. Then, in March of 2007, HB 1281 increased the mandate to 20 percent and extended a separate renewable-energy requirement of 10 percent to rural electric cooperatives. In March of 2010, Colorado legislators passed, and Governor Bill Ritter signed, HB 1001 into law further expanding the standard to 30 percent for utilities.
Between 2005 and 2010, the clean technology sector in Colorado grew by 32.7 percent and now has over 1,600 clean technology companies employing over 19,000 workers –fourth nationwide. In 2010, the clean technology sector was the only sector in the state to grow.
Expanding Colorado’s renewable energy standard will not only continue to create clean jobs in Colorado, it will also reduce soot, smog, mercury, and global warming pollution from the state’s electricity sector. SB 252, if enacted, will incentive quick action for the rural cooperatives required to meet the increased renewable portfolio standard by 2020, allowing additional credits for renewable resources added before 2015. The legislation also promotes investment in local small-scale projects which will allow rural landowners to benefit by leasing land for wind farms– creating an additional income stream. In fact, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wind energy provides 10 times more local tax revenue than a coal-fired power plant in Colorado.
SB 252 will continue to help Colorado remain a leader in the clean energy sector.
Matt Kasper is a Special Assistant for the Energy Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Lexy Atmore is an Energy Policy intern and contributed to this piece.