June 16, 2012

Former Colorado governor criticizes lack of federal policy

Colorado, which now has the most solar jobs per capita in the country, quickly became a leader in renewable energy—wind and solar—over a short period. That’s largely because the legislature, working with former Gov. Bill Ritter (D) enacted legislation that build on the state’s plentiful renewable energy resources.

While explaining how Colorado’s policies allowed it to become such a big market for solar at the SunShot Grand Challenge, Ritter critized Congress for failing to enact renewable energy legislation that strengthen the industries across the country.

During Ritter’s tenure he signed into law more than 50 bills supporting clean energy in the state including an expansion of the state's renewable portfolio standard to 30 percent. In them he focused on four public policy aspects. “We learned in Colorado that you could look to the domestic energy and say that's got o be a bigger part of our portfolio. Then you could resolve environmental challenges by looking at clean energy. Then you could see economic development as a part of it and finally you could do it with equity in mind,” he said. “You could protect rate-payers if you thought about this policy agenda with those valued principal offerings. Energy, environment, economic develop and equity. Fours 'E's.”

Among other things, the legislation focussed on easing access to solar to lower middle income people by allowing residential third-party ownership models like power-purchase agreements and leases in the state. “It was difficult for them to do this so we said: ‘Let's look to California's example’,” he said. “Last year in Colorado 65 to 70 percent of all rooftop installations…in Colorado were leased systems. Imagine if we hadn't done that.”

The policies and Colorado’s resources, including research universities and national laboratories created an environment that’s since led to the most solar jobs per capita. “That happened in large part because the industry looked to Colorado as place where because of public policy advances there was some level of economic certainty,” Ritter said. “This is just the example of a state that was thinking about it every way we could.”

Such policy would have a much stronger impact on the nation and jobs if it were enacted at a federal level. “Doing it state by state by state is certainly, we think, inferior to a national policy that would give investment certainty to people out there but it's better than nothing. We've seen in Colorado proof in the pudding,” Ritter said. But, “Everybody knows at the national level we lack a cohesive national energy policy that Congress has endorsed.”

A national renewable energy policy in the U.S. could have larger international impact. During Ritter’s tenure as governor, he traveled the world and heard from other countries like China, Japan, Israel and Norway. “All these different places where we had meetings they kept saying The United States needs to take the lead on this,” he said. If the U.S. put such policy in place other countries might also take a more serious look at developing renewable energy policies.

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