Green recovery caps legislative session

Environment Colorado


Denver – The Colorado Legislature kept a razor sharp focus on building the New Energy Economy as a strategy for spurring green jobs and economic development amidst the economic recession according to advocates and businesses at a state capitol briefing today.

Groups hailed the leadership of Governor Bill Ritter and the Colorado state legislature for passing more than a dozen bills to advance a green economic recovery. At the same time, Governor Ritter and Energy Office director Tom Plant were key players in the national push to put clean energy investments at the core of federal stimulus spending to help Colorado grow good, green jobs.

“In the midst of tough economic times, the Legislature and Governor Ritter have shown leadership and foresight in passing green policies that will create jobs and local investment right here in Colorado,”  said Carrie Doyle, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters.

The legislature passed a suite of solar bills, including legislation to make solar a standard option on all new homes, a bill to create a low-interest loan fund for schools to make investments in renewable energy improvements such as solar and wind, and the extension of a sales and use tax exemption to solar hot water systems.

Already, renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements have created upwards of 88,000 jobs in Colorado. Clean energy businesses hailed the commitment by state leaders as essential to ensure the upward trend in green jobs.

“Solar power has been a ray of sunshine in Colorado’s economy, but no industry is immune to the economic slowdown.” said Eriks Brolis, of Namaste Solar, Inc. “Governor Ritter and the legislature are making the right decisions to pre-wire Colorado for solar powered jobs to ensure that we keep on growing.”

The Colorado legislature had mixed success advancing energy efficiency solutions. Energy efficiency plays a key role in green recovery efforts because investments create jobs while cutting energy use for homes and businesses, allowing for more money to go into local economies.  It is the cleanest, cheapest way to meet out electricity demand.

The legislature passed a bill allowing rural electric cooperatives to create tiered electricity rates, which allows the cooperatives to create market-based incentives to help drive smarter energy use, save customers money, and cut energy use from one to five percent.

Unfortunately, a bill that would have required large rural electric cooperatives to create energy efficiency programs similar to those already offered by Xcel Energy never made it out of the House chamber. The bill failed due in part to lobby efforts by Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA), the states largest electric co-op known for funding efforts to fight clean energy investment and global warming solutions. The bill would have saved $85 million and created 200 new jobs.

“Energy efficiency investments were the cornerstone of the federal stimulus effort,” said Pam Kiely, legislative program director of Environment Colorado. “So it is a huge disappointment that for the second year in a row the Colorado Legislature dropped the ball on a bill that would have created millions in savings for cash-strapped Coloradans. We are a leader in the New Energy Economy, but we still have a patchwork of regulations covering the rural electricity providers.”
Energy efficiency and weatherization programs did see a big boost from federal investment dollars receiving $130 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Colorado also made important steps toward modernizing and maintaining a 21st Century transportation infrastructure. 

“A modern and sustainable transportation system is critical to a healthy economy. Laying rail line or building a transit stop puts people to work,” said Holman Carter, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1001.

Known as FASTER, Senate Bill 108 created a dedicated revenue stream of funds to repair and maintain Colorado’s road and bridge infrastructure for the first time in seventeen years. FASTER also marked a turning point for state transportation policy by dedicating $15 million annually to transit and multimodal safety. The federal economic stimulus package is also expected to bring more than $500 million in transit and transportation projects.

“Colorado is starting to turn the corner by investing in a 21st Century Transportation system,” said Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Transportation solutions create good, green jobs while improving our energy security and cutting our dependence on oil.”

Colorado also passed landmark legislation to protect Colorado’s air, water, wildlife, and communities from ever-increasing impacts of oil and gas drilling in the state. The legislation marks the end of a two-year long effort that included support from sportsmen, conservationists, local government officials, public health advocates, and rural landowners. 

“The new wildlife, public health and drinking water protections are critical to creating a healthier oil and gas industry, one that protects our natural resources and a diversified economy,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.

Ensuring that impacts by oil and gas drilling are minimized is essential to preserving local tourisms and service-based economies as well as the state’s $10 billion a year outdoor recreation industry, including more than $3 billion in wildlife related activities.

The national and state investments in clean energy and green transportation and the protections from oil and gas drilling impacts represent a comprehensive energy strategy for Colorado that both builds the New Energy Economy and promotes a healthy energy industry. 

Advocacy organizations stated that the year was a success in promoting “green recovery’ policies, but more opportunities lie ahead on state energy efficiency goals, federal legislation to make Colorado a clean energy exporter, and state policies to grow the New Energy Economy.