Colorado group wins round in push for clean energy

click to enlarge The coal pile at Martin Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs holds a 3-week supply of fuel. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • The coal pile at Martin Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs holds a 3-week supply of fuel.

Be careful what you lobby against. You might win a small victory only to face a stronger adversary later.

As the nation's first ballot initiative asking Colorado voters to back more renewable energy gains momentum, renewable energy proponents, including the Colorado Springs' vice mayor, point out that sometimes it's better if cities mind their own business.

"This is our response to the defeat in the Legislature," Manolo Gonzalez-Estay, a spokesman for Coloradans for Clean Energy, said Monday as he and initiative backers delivered petitions carrying 113,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state.

The high number leaves little doubt the group had exceeded its goal of getting the necessary 67,829 valid signatures to be placed on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The initiative would require utility companies across the state to increase their use of renewable energy to at least 3 percent by 2007 and 10 percent by 2015.

Earlier this year, three lobbyists representing utilities and the city helped defeat a bill that would have required Xcel Energy, which serves the Denver area, and Aquila, which serves the Pueblo area, to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels by producing more renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.

The bill would not have impacted Colorado Springs or its city-owned utility. But Colorado Springs Utilities urged lobbyists to work against it anyway because the utility might have been targeted in the future by renewable energy advocates, Wayne Vanderschuere, resource manager for CSU, said earlier this week.

"They were playing us," he said. "We knew they would be back with legislation that would apply to us."

Not so, says Gonzalez-Estay.

"If the bill had passed, this would have stopped there," he said. "We tried to go to the legislative route, like 16 other states, and it did not work."

Activists say they were empowered by the results of a poll conducted last year by the University of Colorado at Denver's Graduate School of Public Affairs. It found that 82 percent of Coloradans think electricity providers should make renewable energy a primary focus for the future.

If Colorado voters approve the initiative in the November general election, CSU will be forced to create more renewable energy in coming years.

But officials are unsure how much they will need, Vanderschuere said. Currently, the utility considers up to 10 percent of the energy it provides as renewable. However, it is not clear whether all of that renewable energy would qualify under the initiative's language, which specifies that at least 4 percent of the renewable power must be from solar. The rest can consist of a combination of wind, biomass and hydropower. CSU does not currently offer solar power to its customers and has only a limited wind power program in place.

The utility hasn't taken a formal position regarding the initiative. Yet Vanderschuere predicted that if it passes ratepayers would probably get hit in the wallet. Renewable energy doesn't cost anything to generate, but if Utilities has to construct equipment, it would be forced to increase rates to pay for it, he said.

Vice Mayor Richard Skorman was the only member of the City Council to object to the city's effort to defeat this year's renewable energy bill in the Legislature. This week, Skorman said that he is not yet sure whether he supports the statewide initiative, however noted that he had hoped the city would have addressed the issue of renewable energy voluntarily.

"It has come back to bite us," Skorman said. "I regret that because we lobbied against something that wasn't going to affect us, but this will."

-- Michael de Yoanna


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