Colorado Takes Steps to Reduce Greenhouse Impact

With the Bush administration relinquishing its role in addressing climate change, leadership on limiting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions has fallen to the states. Fourteen states — mostly in New England and the West — have established individual goals for limiting emissions that cause global warming.

Colorado hasn’t gone that far yet, but with Gov. Bill Ritter’s signature on March 27 on legislation that promotes electricity from renewable resources in the state, Colorado has taken some tentative steps toward joining the advance guard on climate.Last week, Ritter signed two bills — HB 1281 and SB 100 — that should help reduce Colorado’s carbon dioxide contribution. Under HB 1281, investor-owned utilities must provide 20 percent of their power from renewable sources — like wind, solar or biomass — by 2020. It also requires municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives to get 10 percent of their power by 2020.

The impetus for the legislation was the 2004 passage of Amendment 37, which required investor-owned utilities to get ten percent of their power from renewables by 2015. The new bill doubles that energy output from renewables. Municipally owned facilities and rural electrics were exempted by Amendment 37, but will now have boost rrenewables to comply with these new laws.

SB 100 eases the way for getting wind power resources on line by eliminating some constraints on their development. According to a release from Ritter’s office it “allows us to break the ‘chicken and the egg’ cycle whereby wind companies don’t build turbines until there is adequate transmission capacity, and utilities don’t build transmission capacity until there are turbines.”

At the bill’s signing, Ritter said he wanted to make Colorado a national leader in renewable energy. While the legislation is a step in the right direction, the state is going to have set considerably more ambitious goals to show that level of commitment. Several states have plans in place to do more that Colorado, which has dragged its feet on the topic for a decade.

Colorado’s goals for renewable energy generation are not among the top five of the 23 states and the District of Columbia that have set such  goals. Minnesota is calling for an increase of 25 percent by 2025; New York  25 percent by 2013; California, 20 percent by 2016; Nevada 20 percent by 2015. Vermont plans to provide all of its new electric load growth until 2012 from renewables; Maine set a goal of 30 percent by 2000.

Greenhouse gas reduction is not necessarily the main impetus for these standards. A study that supported HB 1281, for instance, found considerable economic benefit from the legislation, especially in rural areas. Colorado gross domestic product could increase by $1.9 billion form the law, and employment and property tax revenues should benefit as well.

But renewables do impact greenhouse gas emissions for the better. According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, for instance:

Texas is expected to avoid 3.3 million tons of CO2 emissions annually with its RPS, which requires 2000 megawatts of new renewable generation by 2009. Increasing a state’s use of renewable energy brings other benefits as well, including job creation, energy security, and cleaner air.

The legislation marks a remarkable turnaround in Colorado’s approach to renewables. For the ten years prior to the 2004 amendment, “Colorado had been among those states most reluctant to take any steps related to greenhouse gas emissions,” according to Barry Rabe of the University of Michigan. Opposition interests to Amendment 37 “spent more than $2 million under the banner of an organization called Citizens for Sensible Energy Choices, investing heavily in a television advertising campaign that focused on concerns about potential costs.”

In late February, the governors of five western states — Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington — announced an agreement to jointly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The states will set emissions targets within six months. Then by August 2008 they have agreed to establish a market mechanism — like a cap-and-trade system — to help meet the target.

Colorado is so far conspicuously absent from this coalition.