Colo. should expand RPS and target wind for EPA carbon rule — report 

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 5, 2015

Colorado’s wind energy sector has generated $5 billion in direct investment and created between 6,000 and 7,000 jobs, or nearly 10 percent of the wind industry’s national workforce, according to data released yesterday by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national business group that tracks clean energy trends.

But the group asserts that for Colorado to maintain its wind energy sector growth, lawmakers in Denver should extend the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which is set to expire in 2020, and use wind energy as a compliance tool in meeting requirements under U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

In a new report called “Winds of Change,” E2’s Rocky Mountains chapter found that Colorado now claims more than 50 wind farms and manufacturing plants, including four large plants from the Danish wind turbine giant Vestas in Colorado that employ nearly 3,000 workers.

Beyond supply chain and wind farm employment, E2 found that the wind industry pays nearly $8 million annually to farmers, ranchers and other landowners who agree to host wind farms.

“Colorado is fertile ground for innovative, job-creating wind companies,” Michael Rucker, president of Boulder-based Harvest Energy Services and a director of E2’s Rocky Mountains chapter, said in a statement.

“Policies like our renewables standard have been a big part of that success story. But keeping our edge won’t be easy,” Rucker added. “We can help secure our reputation as an attractive state for clean energy businesses by supporting the federal Clean Power Plan — which will drive more use of clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency — and by extending and expanding the RPS when our current one expires in five years.”

Colorado’s current RPS requires that investor-owned utilities meet 30 percent of their retail electricity sales using renewable resources by 2020, while electric cooperatives are subject to a 20 percent RPS.

GOP bills targeting EPA, RPS stall in Legislature

Under EPA’s proposed power plant rule, Colorado would have to cut its power-sector carbon dioxide emissions 35 percent from 2012 levels by 2030.

The state’s largest electric utility, Xcel Energy, has said it will meet that target early by retiring older coal-fired plants and increasing its use of wind, solar and natural-gas-fired generation. Xcel already provides more wind energy than any other U.S. investor-owned utility, and it plans to have 7,000 megawatts of wind energy on its transmission and distribution system by the end of this year, according to documents filed with EPA last December.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has also made clear that the state will file a compliance plan with EPA that puts the state on track to meet the 35 percent reduction target (E&E Daily, May 18).

But other interest groups have been highly critical of Colorado’s renewable energy commitments, saying they drive up energy costs while providing only marginal environmental benefits.

In February, Colorado’s Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill to roll back the state’s renewable energy standard so that all electricity providers would have to meet only a 15 percent renewables target. But the measure stalled in the Democratic House of Representatives and garnered little support from the state’s power providers.

A more recent state bill would require that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and both chambers of the Legislature approve the state’s compliance plan for the Clean Power Plan. It, too, passed in the Senate in April but has so far failed to gain momentum in the House.

Critics of the Obama administration’s signature climate change initiative say the Clean Power Plan is a constitutional overreach that interferes with states’ rights to set their own energy policies. Thirteen states have sued to block the rule from being finalized. Colorado is not one of them.

In fact, some state officials such as Rep. Jeni James Arndt, a Democrat based in Fort Collins, said Colorado should continue to take a leadership role in advancing state policies that promote renewable energy.

“Our legislature has an opportunity — and an obligation — to craft cutting-edge energy policy,” Arndt said in a statement. “If we create a business-friendly climate that helps increase the amount of energy we generate from clean, renewable resources like the wind and sun, we expand Colorado’s economy, create jobs, and reduce harmful carbon emissions.”