view from the states
Colorado: When the People Lead,
renewable energy Follows By Se Th MaSia
Seth Masia is managing
editor of Solar Today.
Contact him at smasia@
Where you Live
Colorado now has about
40 MW of grid-tied PV
capacity, up from 1 MW
Colorado has a rich energy culture. Its 150-year- old gas and oil industries have always been vul- nerable to booms and busts, so the local papers
have always provided good coverage of energy issues.
The Colorado School of Mines, established in 1874, and
the National Renewable Energy Lab, founded 100 years
later, have furnished a steady diet of news on energy technology. Starting in 1960, the National Center for Atmospheric Research has provided another local source of
news on global climate issues.
So local voters have always been more sophisticated on
energy issues than the average American. After Colorado’s
legislature failed three times to pass a renewable portfolio
standard (RPS), the voters did so. In November 2004, the
state became the first to pass an RPS at the polls. Amendment
37 called for a 10 percent renewable electric goal by 2015,
with 4 percent from solar. The legislature later increased the
goal to 20 percent by 2020, targeting 100 megawatts (MW)
of photovoltaic (PV) power by that date.
To meet the RPS, Xcel Energy ( xcelenergy.com) began
stepping up its wind power purchases, with the result that
the state went from about 231 MW of installed wind capacity in 2005 to 1,068 MW in early 2009. By March 2006,
Xcel was ready to accept applications for residential PV
rebates (initially at $4.50 per watt). The state now has
about 40 MW of grid-tied PV capacity, up from 1 MW
in 2005, and third most in the nation after California and
New Jersey. Xcel is on schedule to acquire another 17 M W
of solar capacity in 2009, including significant utility-scale
purchases. SunEdison’s ( sunedison.com) 8-MW PV system near Alamosa, came online in 2008.
These renewable buildups paid off in job growth. Vestas
( vestas.com) opened three factories to build turbine blades,
towers and gearboxes, providing about 1,500 manufacturing jobs. The Governor’s Energy Office estimates that, by
2008, the number of solar installers in the state went from
50 companies employing fewer than 100 people to about
250 companies employing about 1,500.
Gov. Bill Ritter was elected in November 2006 on a
platform that included a strong New Energy plank. In short
order, he established a Governor’s Energy Office (GEO)
under Tom Plant, a geologist who had worked as a climate
change specialist for the Union of Concerned Scientists
before serving as a state representative from Boulder. Plant
put together a strong team, including American Solar Energy
Society board member Jeff Lyng as policy manager. Ritter’s
Climate Action Plan, published in November 2007, calls for a
20 percent reduction in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions
by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 (from 2005
Copyright © 2009 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
levels). Programs are being implemented to cut emissions in
nearly all sectors of the economy, with an emphasis on electricity generation and usage, transportation and agriculture
(via significant carbon sequestration).
At the local level, in 2007, Boulder voters passed an electricity tax to support energy-efficiency programs in town,
and Boulder County voters in 2008 passed the Climate
Smart Program, a bond-supported loan initiative that helps
residents buy small PV installations and repay the loans
through a surcharge on their property tax bills. Similar programs are in development in Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison and
LaPlata counties, and it may go statewide in 2010.
In 2007, the legislature mandated improved demand-side management, establishing profit incentives for major
utilities Xcel Energy and Black Hills ( blackhillscorp.com)
to save natural gas. Senate Bill 51 permits residential power-purchase agreements outside Public Utilities Commission
(PUC) regulation. Because the leasing homeowner can
now collect renewable energy certificate payments and
rebates, installation costs can be largely offset. Senate Bill
09-297 allows utilities to use ratepayer revenues as matching funds against economic stimulus funds in support of
RPS projects, with accelerated review by the PUC. House
Bill 09-1149 requires homebuilders to offer optional solar
prewiring or preplumbing or an actual system with new
construction. The PUC also approved the closure of two
coal plants totaling 229 M W and the construction of about
600 MW of concentrating solar power capacity.
Now that Xcel Energy has met its initial PV targets, the
company plans to scale back sharply on rebates and incentives. Over the summer it proposed a “transmission fee”
for all small PV installations, a plan that was beaten back
through a rapidly organized grassroots campaign aimed
at the PUC. Thanks to quick action by the Colorado Solar
Energy Industries Association, the CRES and the GEO,
the PUC received an estimated 5,000 emails and letters
opposing the new fee. The GEO, in partnership with Xcel,
launched a study of the transmission cost issue with a goal
of optimizing the grid for a distributed-energy future.
In 2010, Xcel’s goal for PV installation drops to 8 MW
(from 17 MW in 2009), and the state’s installers worry
that their business will fall sharply unless the legislature
erases the “cliff.” Blake Jones, president of Namasté Solar
( namastesolar.com) in Boulder, suggests that another email
campaign is on the agenda before the end of 2009.
The other major grassroots campaign, driven by Clean
Energy Action ( cleanenergyaction.org), aims to halt
construction of the 750-MW Comanche III coal plant in
Pueblo and the rate hikes meant to pay for it. ST