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Jobs in Colorado, for Coloradans

This column was co-written by state Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass).

Everyone knows the environmental benefits of renewable energy technology, but people often overlook the boost renewable energy can have on an economy.

We have been working with Rep. Max Tyler, Gov. Bill Ritter, the environmental community, investor owner energy companies, and rural electric associations to come up with a plan to use these technologies to bring jobs to Colorado.

In 2004 Colorado voters approved a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) for the first time in the nation. In 2007, Gov. Ritter and the Legislature (including Sen. Schwartz) doubled that standard to 20 percent by 2020. With House Bill 10-1001, Colorado is expected to exceed this goal, so we are proposing to increase our RES to 30 percent by 2020 for investor-owned utilities. This 30-percent standard could lead to 100,000 solar rooftops over the next decade, bring thousands of jobs and incredible economic benefits to the people of Colorado.

By increasing the RES, we will attract renewable energy corporations to Colorado. These companies will see our mountains and plains as ideal locations for wind turbines. They’ll see our abundance of sunny days as ideal for producing solar energy. They’ll evaluate our natural gas reserves which are ideal for development. They’ll see existing high elevation water storage which is ideal for hydropower development. They’ll see our renewable energy research employees (Colorado has the fourth highest concentration in the country). These all provide incredible incentives for these corporations to stake a claim within our borders. Colorado already has 17,000 new direct jobs and 90,000 direct and indirect jobs in renewable energy and energy research fields. The arrival of more renewable energy businesses will bring millions of dollars in investment. And, as corporations come to Colorado, they will need workers to install wind turbines and solar panels, they’ll need workers to extract natural gas and they’ll need workers to keep the whole business maintained and running smoothly. These are jobs in Colorado for Coloradans.

Apart from attracting new jobs and new investment in Colorado, this legislation will ease the burden on our state’s small businesses. Each year, small business owners are forced to withstand the buffet of spiking energy prices, but with these renewable energy sources, once it is installed, the fuel cost is always the same which means it isn’t subject to the same market volatility as fossil energy. By producing renewable energy locally we will begin to rely on the wind, sun, and water for a stable supply of energy which will translate to consistent prices. Also, this bill guarantees that the cost to consumers for this renewable energy will be fixed at only 2 percent of their energy bill, which is consistent with previous legislation. These savings will provide a tangible benefit as consumers in 2010 will spend significantly more for fossil fuels than they would pay for renewable energy.

HB 1001 also has another interesting component — to require 3 percent distributed generation. Distributed generation requires no new transmission lines to be connected to the grid and it can be locally and community owned. And, most importantly, distributed generation projects create more jobs per installed Megawatt than utility scale resources (defined as being over 30MW). It is also important to note that this bill applies to “investor owned energy providers,” so there are no additional requirements for rural electric cooperatives.

In short, this legislation will create jobs in Colorado for Coloradans, attract businesses, large and small, decrease our reliance on foreign oil and help Colorado develop clean, reliable efficient and safe energy. By embracing RES we are showing the country that Colorado is not only embracing the future, but that we are leading the West and the rest of the U.S. into it.