Way back in 2004, Colorado voters approved the state’s first Renewable Energy Standard: 10% by 2015. Xcel Energy was among the large group of critics of that measure, trotting out the usual arguments against any kind of standard or regulation – the industry would collapse, the standard couldn’t be met by 2015, thousands of jobs would be lost, yada, yada, yada.
As proponents predicted, none of that happened. In fact, the industry is stronger and there are more jobs, thanks in part to the RES. Moreover, the RES was met years in advance of the goal, demonstrating how easy it is to begin moving away from dirty energy. In light of the early RES achievement, the state legislature in 2006 doubled the RES to 20% by 2020. Fewer critical voices were heard given the evidence in front of everybody. Still, some complained about the heavy hand of government and continued whining about lost jobs – all the while never offering solutions to generate new jobs, as frequently happens.
It’s not hard to see where I’m going with this. The new, more strict RES is going to be met years in advance of the 2020 goal. Thousands of jobs were not lost because of the RES (the Great Recession is another story altogether). This phenomenon is being repeated over and over again across the nation as other states adopt their own RES goals. In a way, an RES race has been set up. Which state can enact and meet the most strict goal? Currently, California has the most ambitious target: 33% RES by 2020. Given the size of the California energy market and economy, this is a noteworthy endeavor. To achieve this goal, economies of scale will be introduced that will continue to push down prices on renewable energy infrastructure.
California will soon have some competition at the top of the list. The CO state Senate and House have both passed bills in the 2010 session establishing a 30% RES by 2020 – the Senate last Friday and the House yesterday. An additional requirement has also been added. The 30% renewables mandate, which covers large investor-owned utilities, also requires those utilities to get 3% of their power from distributed generation – rooftop solar and other small solar and wind sources owned by individuals, small businesses and communities. That requirement is expected to boost Colorado’s solar energy economy, which already includes 230 companies employing more than 2,500 people.
Environment Colorado has some additional metrics detailing what the 3% goals would achieve:
“Investing in the Sun” indicates that 1,000 megawatts of distributed solar energy would deliver the following benefits over the lifetime of the systems:
• Generate enough reliable, homegrown electricity to power 146,000 Colorado homes
• Create more than 33,500 jobs in Colorado’s New Energy Economy
• Produce $4.3 billion in total economic output (direct, indirect and induced economic activity generated through the construction and maintenance of the solar projects)
• Save 6.8 billion gallons of water, a limited resource in Colorado
• Avoid emitting 30 million tons of the global warming pollutant carbon dioxide, the equivalent of taking nearly 670,000 cars off the road
Critics (mostly the Cons) continue to focus on jobs only in the dirty energy sector – oil and gas. They have offered no plans of their own to create thousands of new, good-paying jobs in the solar and wind energy sectors. They can continue to think the same way they did in the 20th century, doing the bidding of powerful dirty energy corporations. Providing that kind of contrast to people who are looking to the jobs of 2020 should be welcome news to progressives in Colorado.
These standards are steps in the direction we need to be moving. Each time the standards are proposed, they are met well before their target dates. As Colorado’s New Energy Economy continues to expand, that will continue to happen, to the benefit of all of us. Congratulations are in order to the CO legislature, who continue to lead on this issue.