Our View: Small price for green power

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Three times in three sessions the Legislature has rejected bills that would establish a renewable energy standard for Colorado. Now, the state's voters have the chance to put such a standard in place by approving Amendment 37 on the Nov. 2 ballot. We think they should.

Amendment 37 would require the state's utilities to get 3 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources -- wind, solar or biomass technologies -- by 2007, 6 percent by 2001 and 10 percent by 2015. If approved, Colorado would join 16 other states that have renewable energy standards ranging from 1.1 percent in Arizona to 30 percent in Maine.

Colorado would be the first state to enact a renewable energy standard through ballot initiative.

Colorado's utility companies oppose Amendment 37. It is, in their opinion, an unfunded mandate requiring the purchase of renewable energy whether it is economical or not. Utility companies note that Xcel, the state's largest energy producer, already is the largest "green power" producer in the nation and that Colorado is the eighth-largest green power consumer, making 37 unnecessary.

Finally, the power companies argue the increased cost to meet 37's requirements will be passed along to consumers.

Officials from Yampa Valley Electric Association, the electric co-op that serves Northwest Colorado, said they support renewable energy, but that utility companies should not be required to use renewable energy minimums until it is more economically feasible to do so. YVEA, which has 24,000 customers, would be exempt from the requirements of 37 because the amendment applies only to companies with 40,000 or more customers. But YVEA purchases its power from Xcel and thus 37's costs will be passed from Xcel to YVEA. Xcel has estimated those costs at between $500 million and $1.5 billion over 20 years; YVEA estimates its costs at $7 million to $20 million over 20 years.

Using YVEA's estimates, the additional cost to consumers would be between $1 and $3 per month. That's a relatively small price to pay to begin weaning ourselves off our dependence on fossil fuels. But consumers won't pay that much because Amendment 37 includes a cap of 50 cents per month on the effect the renewable energy standard can have on residential bills. (Power companies argue commercial consumers are vulnerable to increased costs because the cap applies only to residential customers, but Colorado law prevents charging commercial customers a different rate than residential users.)

Besides, in contrast to the utilities' estimates, consumer advocate studies predict the renewable energy standard will cause no price increase and may actually decrease consumer costs.

It is important to note that Amendment 37 is statutory, not constitutional. That means the legislature can, without seeking voter approval, correct provisions of the amendment if problems arise in the future.

Our primary sources of energy are now and will continue to be coal and natural gas. Both are finite resources. Coal-fired plants generate air pollutants and divert water resources. Natural gas prices, as consumers have seen during recent winters, can fluctuate wildly. Such issues are not associated with wind and solar energy.

Studies estimate that acquiring 10 percent of our power from renewable energy will have the equivalent impact of taking 600,000 vehicles off the road. It will conserve water. And in the long run, the development and increased use of renewable energy is a vital national security interest that will help reduce our dependence upon foreign oil.

Amendment 37 sets a reasonable standard for using renewable energy and includes important safeguards to protect utility companies and consumers. We think it is smart and sensible policy that consumers want. Vote yes on Amendment 37.

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