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Bill Ritter Presentation: Clean Energy and the Environment in America

Posted on the 17 November 2011 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Bill Ritter Presentation: Clean Energy and the Environment in AmericaEarlier this week I attended a presentation by former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. This is the second time I’ve heard Ritter speak, once while he was still in office and the other on Monday. Both presentations touched largely on the role of clean energy in the US economy. Ritter, who served one term, left office last year, choosing not to seek reelection. The former governor currently holds the position of Director and Senior Scholar at Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE). The talk was advertised as a lecture from Ritter “on his continuing work promoting the goal of a clean energy economy and CNEE’s work.” As part of his position at CNEE, Ritter is working with governors’ offices across the country to implement clean energy policy.

Due to a number of factors, Colorado has become a leader for the clean energy economy in the US. While governor, Ritter supported increasing the renewable energy standard to 30% of the state’s energy mix. The wind industry has seen companies like Vestas increase their presence in the state. The sunny, cool climate and high altitude also serves as a good place for photovoltaic technology. As a result there are a number of solar panel installers proliferate throughout the state.

Governor Ritter opened with a brief discussion of climate change, the science behind it, and the concept itself. He pointed out that the academy of science in 97 countries have reviewed the science of climate change. Each group has come out and said in strong language (as scientists tend to shy away from speaking in absolutes) that there is an extremely strong likelihood that humans have caused climate change. Ritter stated that as governor, climate change was the framework within which his administration thought about energy. While in office, he went around the world speaking to governments and all of them were waiting for the United States to lead on climate change.

As part of the transition to clean energy, Ritter envisiones a 20 year horizon. He laid out a few ideas as to how to make the transition, noting that it is not feasible to merely increase utility rates two or three fold in order to pay for upgrades and clean energy generation. As noted in a previous post, utility bills are the second highest expense for many homeowners and renters. In Colorado, the state took advantage of the federalist system (a common tool used by California, as noted in this recent post) and moved forward using the autonomy granted by the founding fathers. According to the presentation, Colorado was the first state to implement a renewable energy standard, 10% back in 2004. Voters approved the initial standard (before Ritter was inaugurated in 2007). One way the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, was brought on board was through a 1% surcharge on customers’ bills. This funding helped offset the cost of some renewable energy projects. As the state moved to a 20% standard, Xcel’s surcharge was raised to 2%. However, the most recent increase (to 30%, covered in an earlier post) the rate was capped at 2%, creating a scenario where Xcel had to find ways to generate a larger percentage of energy from renewables with the same funding. In order to achieve the new standard, natural gas is being included, although to what extent is unclear.

Toward the end of his presentation, Ritter mentioned something that was brought up at the recent Colorado Green Schools Conference, “performance contracting.” In short, performance contracting is a process in which clients hire a company to come in and help reduce energy consumption. The savings from the changes are used to pay for the work done, thereby saving the client money from energy expenditures and avoiding loans to pay for such services. A number of companies – like Johnson Controls – offer performance contracting.

Check back next week for notes on the question and answer session.

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