States Set Example with Green-Power Policies

Power companies and environmentalists rarely agree about air quality and energy solutions, but the diverse interests are coming together this week in support of a Colorado bill to encourage wider use of renewable energy.

If the measure becomes law, Colorado will join 15 states that are encouraging the growth of wind and solar power by requiring that a certain percentage of power be "green." Green power is energy from a regenerative or virtually inexhaustible source such as wind, sun and water.

The United States mostly relies on coal, nuclear power and natural gas, with nonhydroelectric renewable energy making up just 2 percent of the nation's electricity mix last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. Hydro, wholly supplied by power-producing dams, accounted for 6 percent.

Maine leads the nation by getting 30 percent of its electricity from renewable energy, followed by Hawaii, California and New Hampshire at about 10 percent each, according to a 2003 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a public interest group. Nevada, Alabama and Vermont are also leaders in renewable energy generation as a percentage of sales, but 30 states are at or below the national average of 1.8 percent, the report said.

The Colorado bill, which would force utilities to get 8 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2010, cleared the House but is one vote short of Senate passage, said its sponsor, Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas. An amendment added Wednesday would let utilities produce an unlimited amount of hydroelectric renewable energy.

Colorado's debate is characteristic of the conflict generated by state green power proposals. It centers on whether to force the state's two investor-owned utilities, Xcel and Aquila, to get at least 900 megawatts a year from renewable sources within six years. The two utilities supported the measure over the protests of the some rural electric companies and the state's coal mining industry whose lobbyists said the bill created a "market by fiat."

Kester, who represents southeastern Colorado from Fremont to Baca counties, said, "It is a mandate, and some people don't like mandates. But I don't think we can bring people to Colorado to construct [renewable power] if there's not some guarantee we're going to use that power."

Dianna Orf, lobbyist for Colorado Mining Association, said, "We believe it is inappropriate for the government to create a market by requiring the purchase of the product."

A survey last year by the Wells Fargo Public Opinion Research Program at the University of Colorado at Denver found that 82 percent of state residents wanted utilities to get future power supplies from renewable sources.

The threat of a referendum on renewable energy has overshadowed the debate. If backers collect the required signatures by Aug. 2, Colorado could become the first state to let voters decide through a November ballot initiative, whether they want to force virtually all state utilities to get 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2012.

The 15 other states with similar mandates, called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, according to the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy.

"Clean energy burns clean. There are no residuals and it's an everlasting source. RPS is an important piece, but what will make the energy real is when residential consumers can just start buying it. People are saying they'd be willing to pay more for a product that they know is cleaner for the environment, is better for their health and doesn't make us as reliant on foreign nations. What they need to know is, it's real, it's here and it's working," said Brian Keane, executive director of SmartPower, a not-for-profit marketing campaign that promotes green power in New England.

Renewable energy generated by state standards far exceeds voluntary purchases of green electricity. California has long led the pack with numerous initiatives to promote renewable energy, and some states are following.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) signed a law this month that forces utilities to derive 10 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2011.

Maryland is considering similar legislation, endorsed by House Speaker Michael Busch, to require that 7.5 percent of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2014.

In her recent State of the State address, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R) said she intends to keep a campaign promise to mandate that 20 percent of all electricity sold in the year 2020 come from renewable sources.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas signed into law a bill last year that calls for a study of the possible effects of a renewable energy mandate.

Lawmakers in Wisconsin, where by law 2.2 percent of power must come from renewable sources by 2011, are debating whether to require state buildings to buy at least 10 percent of electricity from renewable sources by January 2006.

Last year Maine Gov. John Baldacci (D) said the governor's residence and other state buildings would be supplied with green power as a first step toward buying half of state government's electricity from renewable power sources. Five other statesIllinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvaniaalso require government facilities to be powered with renewable energy.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) pledged this year to have at least 10 percent of the state's electricity supply come from renewable energy with the next decade.

Thirty-four states generate less than 1 percent of power sales from renewable sources, excluding hydropower. Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia generate the least green power, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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