By Robert Applegate
Amid the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) latest report1 on the land requirements of solar power generation, others are taking a look at what is really required to power homes using solar and wind and comparing that to another carbon free source, nuclear power generation.
A nuclear power plant, the biggest reactors currently available would take up less than 2 square miles and produce 3200MW of power.2 To achieve this same power output from solar would require 292 square miles, 146 times the amount of land required for a nuclear plant.2 A wind farm would need to be 832 square miles, or 416 times the land to create the same amount of power of the nuclear plant.2 To put this into perspective, the land footprints are shown over the backdrop of the state of Rhode Island, where the blue is a nuclear plant, the yellow a solar farm, and the green a wind farm all of equal capacity.
Land footprints of a nuclear plant (blue), solar array (yellow), and a wind farm (green) all of equal capacity (3200MW), over the backdrop of the state of Rhode Island.2
1 NREL Report Firms Up Land-Use Requirements of Solar. Study shows solar for 1,000 homes would require 32 acres. July 30, 2013. http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2013/2269.html
2 What Does Renewable Energy Look Like? Clean Energy Insight, 10 Apr, 2010. http://www.cleanenergyinsight.org/energy-insights/what-does-renewable-energy-look-like/
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers hydropower to be a renewable energy source.
The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) calculates that carbon emissions from hydroelectric power are on par with wind and solar energy.
Last Thursday, Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a leftist non-profit organization, testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee that hydroelectric power is renewable.
For more information on Weiss, see below.
Responding to question from Congressman Cory Gardner who asked Mr. Weiss if he considered hydropower to be “renewable,” Weiss stated, “yes it is.”
Video of that testimony is here. Congressman Gardner’s question to Weiss begins at the 1:53:27 mark.
Gardner went on to explain that Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives get a significant percentage of their power from Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), a federal hydropower project, yet that is not considered “renewable” under SB 252, the state bill to increase the renewable mandate on Colorado’s co-ops 100 percent by 2020.
Supporters of SB 252 claim to be concerned about carbon emissions, yet none advocate for hydro. Both the EPA and CAP consider hydro a renewable source, but supporters exclude most hydro from the bill.
This begs the questions: if hydro is renewable and clean and co-ops already use hydro, then why would the Colorado state legislature force them to comply with a mandate that excludes their clean source and requires a massive $2 billion to $4 billion build out?
Perhaps a better title for SB252 would have the “preferred” energy standard for rural electric cooperatives.
More about Weiss from his curriculum vitae:
Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at American Progress, where he leads the Center’s clean energy and climate advocacy campaign. Before coming to American Progress, he spent 25 years working with environmental advocacy organizations and political campaigns. Weiss is an expert in energy and environmental policy; legislative strategy and tactics; and advocacy communications.
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
The impact of SB 252, a bill to raise the renewable mandate on rural electric cooperatives, will be devastating to rural Colorado according to Dr. Roger Bezdek, Founder and President of Management Information Services, Inc. Bezdek released a report titled “The Economic and Jobs Impact of the Proposed Colorado RES” that predicts that, if passed, SB 252 will raise significantly the state’s unemployment rate and electric rates, which directly contradicts what bill sponsors Senate President John Morse and Senator Gail Schwartz have been arguing.
According to Bezdek’s report:
- At present, Colorado’s unemployment rate is below the U.S. average.
- With the RES, the state’s unemployment rate would increase to about 15% above the U.S. average.
- However, job losses resulting from the RES, would be largely concentrated in the predominately rural areas served by the electric coops – many of which are already suffering economically.
- The unemployment rate in these areas would increase substantially and would be more than 1/3 higher than the state average and more than 50% higher than the national unemployment rate.
- At present, Colorado’s average electric rate is below the U.S. average.
- With the RES, the state’s overall average would increase to above the U.S. average.
- However, with the RES, the average rate to the predominately rural customers served by the electric coops would increase significantly and would be about 14% higher than the national average.
Bezdek draws on 30 years of experience in “research and management in the energy, utility, environmental, and regulatory areas, serving in private industry, academia and the federal government” and provides a grim forecast for those co-op members living on a fixed income. They will see their residential rates go up $20 per month.
Sure seems like a war on rural Colorado.
Despite close to seven hours of testimony on SB13-252, a bill to raise the renewable energy mandate 150 percent on rural electric co-ops, it is very clear that the bill’s prime sponsors Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass) do not understand their own bill and didn’t bother to consult those who can comprehend the complexity of this legislation. It passed out of committee on a party line vote.
The bill was heard yesterday in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. Members include:
- Senator Angela Giron, Chair, (D-Pueblo) and a bill sponsor
- Senator Matt Jones, Vice-Chair, (D-Louisville) and a bill sponsor
- Senator Ted Harvey, (R-Highlands Ranch)
- Senator Evie Hudak (D-Westminster)
- Senator Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa)
What the sponsors say it will do:
- Imposes a mandate on rural electric co-ops forcing them to get 25 percent of the electricity they supply to members from government-selected “renewable” sources, such as wind and solar by 2020.
- Removes the in-state preference for the 1.25 kilowatt-hour multiplier.
- Expands the “renewable” sources to include coal-mine methane and municipal waste.
- Increases the retail rate impact from 1 to 2 percent, which Sen. Giron calls “acceptable.”
What the bill really will do:
- Despite no projected fiscal impact to state government, it will cost co-op members anywhere from $2 billion to 4 billion, more than $8,000 per meter, including those in 10 of Colorado’s poorest counties.
- Removes the in-state multiplier because current law is unconstitutional. The state is being sued over it and doesn’t want to lose, which would force the state to pay attorney’s fees.
- Drive jobs out of the state because of high electricity costs.
- “Blow up the electric co-operative business model.”
- Likely force the state to spend taxpayer money defending this new law in court.
- Devastate rural economies.
- Drive up the cost of business for Colorado’s farmers and ranchers at the same time they are suffering through a devastating drought.
- Force co-ops to try to comply with a law that well could be a “physical impossibility.”
- So many people showed up to testify that the hearing had to moved to a larger room, and still an over-flow room was needed to accommodate the crowd
- Neither Senator Morse nor Schwartz could answer basic questions about the rate cap and indicated the committee would hear from “experts” who could answer questions.
- All three Moffat County Commissioners showed up to testify against the bill.
- Tri-State Generation, wholesale power supplier owned by co-ops, and every electric co-op that testified stated they were not consulted at all regarding the bill despite their repeated attempts to engage with sponsors once they heard legislation would be coming.
- Bi-partisan opposition
- Partisan support
- Senator Harvey was the best-prepared legislator.
Below are highlights and lowlights of SB252 testimony.
Forced to admit:
Senator Harvey asked Senator Morse if the electric cooperatives were ever consulted regarding SB 252. Morse couldn’t say, “yes,” so he answered with a long-winded “no.”
Former Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Chairman Ron Binz, who resigned under the cloud of an ethics complaint, acknowledged that Xcel Energy may well benefit by selling “renewable energy credits” (RECs) to Colorado’s rural co-ops in order for them to comply with this law.
Senator Ted Harvey asked several supporters of SB 252 if they would support the 150 percent mandate increase if they didn’t benefit directly from the bill. The answer: “No.”
Senator John Morse stated if the “market” wanted a renewable mandate we would have one. But since the market doesn’t, government must force it.
Supporter and former state representative Buffy McFadden, current Pueblo County Commissioner, said she wasn’t sure if renewable energy would “go to market” if government didn’t force it.
“Two percent rate cap” comes under fire:
Senator Harvey asked sponsors to explain the two percent rate cap. They couldn’t.
Under pressure from Senator Ted Harvey, PUC Executive Director Doug Dean struggled to explain the total cost of the Colorado’s renewable energy mandate and the two percent rate cap. Dean finally acknowledged that the two percent rate cap only applies to “incremental costs,” and followed up with “it’s pretty complicated.”
Binz perpetuates the 2 percent rate cap myth. Says in testimony, “as an officer of the state,” the PUC and Xcel do not mislead the public on the cost of renewable energy.
Four hours later, Independence Institute energy policy analyst William Yeatman directly addresses Binz’s misleading characterization of how Xcel recovers the total cost of the renewable energy mandate. Yeatman clarifies using real numbers: two percent of Xcel’s retail electric sales in 2012 was $53 million, which was captured in the Residential Electric Standard Adjustment (RESA). Another $291 million, not subject to the rate cap, was captured through the Electric Commodity Adjustment for a total of $343 million or 13 percent of retail sales.
Senator Harvey asked Yeatman to explain how the PUC allows this. Yeatman responded that the budgetary trick was likely the result of a dichotomy between PUC staff that acknowledges the public may be “laboring under the misapprehension of a two percent rate cap” and the Commissioners who allow it to occur.
Rich Wilson, CEO of Southeast Colorado Power Association, to bill sponsors: “you just blew apart the non-profit electric cooperative model.”
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers pleads with the committee “don’t pass this bill.”
Kent Singer, Executive Director of Colorado Rural Electric Association (CREA), to bill sponsors and supporters, “even after five hours of testimony, I don’t think you have a clear picture of how this [SB252] works.”
Singer continues, had sponsors come to us, we could have explained it, but they NEVER did.
Singer: two percent rate cap is far more complicated than Ron Binz would lead you to believe.
Dan Hodges, Executive Director of Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities, responding to inquires about why Senator Morse would exclude his own utility owned by the city of Colorado Springs: the state constitution excludes municipal utilities from state regulation because they are owned by their citizens. “it’s unconstitutional” to draw municipals into this…”I don’t think it is appropriate for rural electric cooperatives to be drawn in either” because they are owned by their members.
Binz belittles non-profits cooperatives and their members: “Tri-State [Generation] doesn’t have the state’s interest in mind.” Tri-State is owned by electric cooperatives, which, in turn, are owned by members. Most of those members are rural Coloradans.
Senator Gail Schwartz said her neighbors in Aspen and Snowmass want more options for and access to renewables such as solar panels. My question: Why don’t they just pay for it?
Dave Lock, Senior manager, government relations for Tri-State, addresses Binz, “you can be damn sure Tri-State cares about Colorado.”
Lock responding to Binz’s disbelief about Tri-State’s $2-4billion analysis. “We only had five days,” which included a weekend because we were never allowed at the table.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers, “I own a bar. I’d like to mandate that everyone drink 25 percent more.”
John Kinkaid of Moffat County “we aren’t contributing to your [Denver’s] brown cloud.”
War on Rural Colorado:
All three Moffat County Commissioners John Kinkaid, Tom Mathers, and Chuck Grobe echoed the theme that SB 252 is an assault on rural ratepayers and equivalent to “war on rural Colorado.”
Norma Lou Murr, a Walsenburg senior citizen on a fixed income, waited patiently for hours to testify. When her turn finally came, she asked the committee “to look very seriously” before raising her electric rates.
The way the state legislative Democrats are handling this legislation is similar to how they handled gun control – leave those most impacted out of the conversation and then completely ignore their concerns during testimony.
Sponsors excluded from cost of own bill:
Two of the main State Senate sponsors, Senate president John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Aspen) conveniently carved their own districts out of the bill.
Because municipally owned utilities are excluded from the bill, Morse won’t have to pay the cost of his own legislation. While Schwartz evades the cost because Holy Cross, the co-operative that serves her district, doesn’t meet the bill’s 100,000-meter threshold.
If this government mandate is so good, then why don’t they include all of Colorado — including their own communities.
We care about the environment:
Expanding the definition of what is an eligible resource, including coal mine methane, is a good idea. However, including bio-waste while excluding hydroelectric makes no sense unless claiming it’s for the environment is just a verbal facade
If eco-left progressives really cared about carbon emissions, they would include hydroelectric in Colorado’s energy source mandate. As this blog mentioned just days ago, the EPA considers hydro a renewable resource and the Colorado Energy Office says emissions from hydro are on par with wind and solar. Furthermore, Colorado already gets significant power from hydroelectric:
Colorado has 1169 megawatts (MW) of existing hydroelectric capacity. Of that total, 82 percent is generated at facilities with a capacity over 30 MW—meaning it is not “renewable” unless the facility was built in the past eight years. Unfortunately, most facilities do not meet this requirement
According to the most recently released figures, renewables other than hydro produce 9.8 percent of the total net summer electricity capacity. If the total 1169 MW of existing hydro capacity were considered renewable, hydroelectricity would contribute another 8.5 percent of capacity. Instead, only 4.8 percent of hydroelectric power is considered renewable.
Two percent rate cap:
We’ve proved so many times that the two percent rate cap is a sham for Investor Owned Utilities (IOU), it’s amazing they keep advancing it. Sources from wholesale power supplier Tri-State Generation say this bill could cost anywhere from $2 to 4 billion for capital construction. That equates to $8,000 per meter. That will be a financial strain on the residents of the ten lowest income counties in Colorado that Tri-State covers.
Lastly, we’ve heard from other electric cooperative sources that they weren’t even included in crafting this bill. They simply will have to implement and pay for it.
UPDATE: Colorado’s electric cooperatives have confirmed that not one of them was consulted during the crafting of this bill, which will cost their consumers billions of dollars.
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
By Brandon Ratterman
Almost 60 percent of Oregon’s electricity is generated from hydroelectric power, which is considered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a renewable energy resource. However, the state is struggling to meet the mandated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of 15 percent renewable generation by 2015, as hydroelectricity generated at facilities built before 1995 does not qualify as a renewable resource. Since most hydroelectric facilities were built before 1995, the state has been forced to use wind energy to fill this void. Unfortunately, wind energy in Oregon produces some counterproductive effects.
Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is one of the main providers of hydroelectric power in Oregon, but because their facilities do not contribute to the mandated renewable portfolio standards, they are forced to give wind producers access to their transmission lines. As a result, the amount of electricity that BPA can supply to the grid is reduced, and BPA is forced to spill excess water over their dams, resulting in increased turbulence and toxic levels of nitrogen.
Oregonians annually spend over half a billion dollars to protect the fish and wildlife, which are now threatened by these increased nitrogen levels. As a result, Oregon courts are requiring hydroelectric producers to remedy the situation, despite the fact that wind energy is the root cause of this issue. Organizations such as BPA are being forced to pay wind producers to power down during times of high runoff. On average, this is estimated to cost Oregon ratepayers $12 million annually, with potential costs ranging up to $50 million. In return, Oregonians will receive the same electricity, derived from the same energy source, as they did in the past.
The fact that Oregon’s hydroelectric power does not count toward its renewable portfolio standards, even though the EPA recognizes it as a renewable source, proves that the concept of “green energy” is geared toward increased spending that makes electricity more expensive. If lawmakers are committed to reducing emissions in an economically sustainable way, hydroelectricity needs to be recognized as a renewable resource.
Filed under: Archive, Legislation, New Energy Economy, renewable energy
Could this happen in Colorado? Maybe…
A Wall Street Journal article reports what some in Colorado’s energy industry know, too much reliance on wind and solar can make an electric grid unstable and lead to power outages.
California regulators and energy companies met last week out of fear that the state’s electric grid is so unstable due to heavy dependence on wind and solar that rolling blackouts will begin as early as 2015. The WSJ reports:
Regulators and energy companies met Tuesday, hoping to hash out a solution to the peculiar stresses placed on the state’s network by sharp increases in wind and solar energy. Power production from renewable sources fluctuates wildly, depending on wind speeds and weather.
California has encouraged growth in solar and wind power to help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. At the same time, the state is running low on conventional plants, such as those fueled by natural gas, that can adjust their output to keep the electric system stable. The amount of electricity being put on the grid must precisely match the amount being consumed or voltages sag, which could result in rolling blackouts.
At Tuesday’s meeting, experts cautioned that the state could begin seeing problems with reliability as soon as 2015.
California, which has a 33 percent renewable mandate, has plenty of power but…
Even though California has a lot of plants, it doesn’t have the right mix: Many of the solar and wind sources added in recent years have actually made the system more fragile, because they provide power intermittently.
This story should serve as a warning to all, such as Rep. Max Tyler (D-Lakewood) and former Governor Bill Ritter, who think that government mandating electricity generated from wind and solar is as simple as passing legislation while ignoring science and technology.
In a March 2010 press release Tyler bragged about his bill increasing Colorado’s renewable mandate to 30 percent:
The sun will always shine for free, the winds will always blow for free, and our energy production will be cleaner. Renewable energy, green jobs, and a cleaner future — what’s not to like?
What’s not to like? How about an unstable grid that leads to blackouts. Get your generators now.
I didn’t make up this. The Denver Post lede paragraph in a story about the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is almost laughable:
Hooking a toaster oven to a solar panel is not an easy thing, but the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s new $135 million integrated energy facility will able do just that. While it may seem like a lot of money for toast, the Energy Systems Integration Facility can do a lot more.
That doesn’t just seem like a lot of money, it IS a lot of money. On this blog we’ve detailed NREL’s excessive spending. And Colorado Watchdog.org exposed NREL’s million dollar employee Executive Director Dan Arvizu.
So is $135 million a lot for toast? For most taxpayers yes but likely not for NREL. It might be more humorous if it weren’t our money. Frankly, we haven’t seen NREL do anything that couldn’t wouldn’t be done better in the private sector — assuming it is done at all.
By Peter Blake
This column appeared originally on Complete Colorado Page 2.
When the runners are closing in on the finish line, move the tape farther back.
That’s the usual strategy employed by greens when it comes to establishing renewable energy standards for electricity production. It’s a marathon that never ends, and the added cost to consumers is secondary, if not irrelevant.
Colorado’s power producers are awaiting introduction of a bill that would raise the minimums yet again. But their lobbyists don’t know the details — and neither does the prospective sponsor, apparently.
There’s plenty of “radio chatter,” said Jeani Frickey, a lobbyist for Colorado’s rural electric associations, but “we don’t have anything specific yet.”
“I’ve not seen any bill drafts, or even outlines of ideas,” said Mike Beasley, an Xcel Energy lobbyist.
An aid to Rep. Su Ryden confirmed that the Aurora Democrat is going to be a sponsor of a bill, but even she hasn’t seen it. “A lot of different people” are still working on the bill.
The ever-rising renewable standards began back in 2004, when Colorado voters approved Amendment 37, an initiative that required regulated, investor-owned utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity through renewable energy by 2015.
Three years later the legislature, assuming that one popular vote gave them carte blanche to do the work themselves from then on, raised the minimum to 20 percent by 2020. At the same time it established a 10 percent mandate on REAs, co-ops, which are not under the Public Utilities Commission.
In 2010 lawmakers raised the minimum to 30 percent for regulated utilities by 2020. The REAs were left at 10 percent. Now it’s three years later, again, and history tells us that lawmakers will be back with yet higher standards.
Some predict the figure will go to 40 percent for Xcel and Black Hills Energy, and 20 percent for the REAs. Others believe that only the REAs will be raised. But they’re only guesses, and the figures could be adjusted during the legislative process anyway.
By the way, you might think that hydroelectric power would count as a renewable, since no fuel is required and it produces, as Frickey noted, “zero greenhouse gas emissions.”
But Colorado enviros refuse to recognize water power as a renewable. Perhaps they’re afraid it would lead to the damming of various rivers. But if it did count, the REAs would already be over their required 10 percent just using existing dams. Tri-State Generation & Transmission, which supplies 18 of Colorado’s 22 REAs with electricity, gets 12 percent of its power from water, said Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey. It’s generated by the Western Area Power Administration, an agency of the Energy Department.
REAs would be a natural target for the Democratic-controlled legislature. They cover 73 percent of Colorado’s land but less than 25 percent of the state’s population, said REA lobbyist Geoff Hier. Democrats predominate along the Front Range, where Xcel provides most of the power, and Republicans in the hinterlands.
One group working on the bill is Conservation Colorado, a recently formed amalgam of the state’s Conservation Voters and its Environmental Coalition.
Last September, before the merger was formalized, the leaders of the two groups wrote a letter to legislative candidates urging their support for “Colorado’s Path to a Clean Energy Future.” [Read entire letter below]
They seemed to be targeting the REAs. Noting that Xcel has a 30 percent mandate, “most rural and municipal energy providers have only made a 10 percent commitment that is below the national average,” says the letter. It went on to blame coal plants and autos for air pollution and urged a four-point program:
- “Decreasing the emissions that cause climate change” by at least 2 percent a year;
- Ensuring that “over a third” of Colorado’s electricity comes from renewable technologies;
- Requiring all utilities to offer “energy efficiency” programs that will help customers save energy.
- Encouraging the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles.
- Senate Bill 126, now in the House, would help promote the last point.
It’s hard to predict how Xcel or the REAs will react when a bill is finally introduced. In 2004, Xcel fought the first mandate. But then the greens got smart and stopped treating it as an evil corporate enemy while Xcel came to realize its job was to make money, not provide cheap power. It’s entitled to 10 percent return on investment, no matter what the cost of fuel or capital equipment.
The PUC helped by no longer requiring utilities to apply the “least cost” principle when building facilities or buying fuel. What’s more, the PUC made retail fuel prices subservient to more nebulous environmental goals.
Xcel ended up backing the 2010 bill, just as the REA’s backed the move to 10 percent renewable for them.
If renewables were economically competitive in the marketplace, there would be no need for legislation. Utilities would turn to them automatically. But so far, they’re not. Wind survived only because Congress belatedly extended its special tax credits. Solar is even less competitive.
Xcel already is allowed to charge you an extra 2 percent per month to pay for its renewable facilities and fuel.
Three years ago, when Bill Ritter was still governor, a coalition of natural gas companies, Xcel and greens worked behind closed doors for months before dropping House Bill 1365 into the hopper on March 15. It required Xcel to close down three coal-fired plants or convert them to natural gas by 2017. It was then rushed through the legislative process in a couple of weeks as more than 30 lobbyists worked the halls.
A similar rush-rush process recently worked for the gun bills. Perhaps it will be tried again when the renewable energy bill is introduced.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at email@example.com
By William Yeatman and Amy Oliver Cooke
As Coloradans we thought we might have to apologize to the rest of the country if President Barack Obama nominated former one-term Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to head the Energy Department. If the President wanted to make electricity costs skyrocket and the eco-left community happy, Ritter was his guy, but the President didn’t pick him.
Despite his dense résumé and desire to cut emissions, however, Moniz can be a polarizing figure in scientific and environmental circles. Few experts deny the value of a scientist as DOE chief, but many fans of renewable energy worry about Moniz’s gusto for natural gas and nuclear power — not to mention his financial ties to the energy industry.
‘We’re concerned that, as energy secretary, Ernest Moniz may take a politically expedient view of harmful fracking and divert resources from solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources vital to avoiding climate disaster,’ Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a recent press release. ‘We’re also concerned that Moniz would be in a position to delay research into the dangers fracking poses to our air, water and climate.’
And the Washington Post reports:
But over the past couple of weeks, many environmentalists and some prominent renewable energy experts have tried to block the nomination of Moniz because of an MIT report supporting “fracking” — as hydraulic fracturing is commonly known — and because major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell, ENI and Saudi Aramco, provided as much as $25 million each to the MIT Energy Initiative. Other research money came from a foundation bankrolled by shale gas giant Chesapeake Energy.
‘We would stress to Mr. Moniz that an ‘all of the above’ energy policy only means ‘more of the same,’ and we urge him to leave dangerous nuclear energy and toxic fracking behind while focusing on safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar,’ Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement Monday.
The Sierra Club doesn’t have much credibility because financially it was sleeping with the enemy, having taken $26 million from Chesapeake Energy to destroy the market for coal. One place they enjoyed great success was in Colorado with HB 1365, the fuel switching bill and cornerstone of Ritter’s “New Energy Economy.”
Governor Ritter coined the term New Energy Economy for his signature agenda. In practice, his New Energy Economy entails three policies: (1) a Soviet-style green energy production quota; (2) subsidies for green energy producers; and (3) a mandate for fuel switching from coal to natural gas. Renewable energy is more expensive than conventional energy, and natural gas is twice as expensive as coal in Colorado, so these policies inherently inflated the cost of electricity.
Last month, the Independence Institute published the first ever line item expensing of Ritter’s energy policies, and the results were shocking. In 2012, the New Energy Economy cost Xcel Energy (the state’s largest investor-owned utility) ratepayers $484 million, or 18 percent of retail electricity sales.
This princely sum purchased the equivalent of 402 megawatts of reliable capacity generation. By comparison, Xcel had a surplus generating capacity (beyond its reserve margin) in 2012 of 700 megawatts—almost 75 percent more than the New Energy Economy contribution. Thanks to Governor Ritter’s energy policies, Xcel ratepayers in Colorado last year paid almost half a billion dollars for energy they didn’t need.
In addition to implementing expensive energy policies, Governor Ritter also has experience picking losers in the energy industry. In May 2009, Governor Ritter hand-delivered to Secretary Chu a letter in support of a $300 million loan guarantee for Colorado-based Abound Solar, a thin-filmed solar panel manufacturer. In the letter Ritter claimed Abound would “triple production capacity within 12 months, develop a second manufacturing facility within 18 months and hire an additional 1,000 employees.”
Taxpayer money couldn’t keep Abound afloat, which never reached production capacity. After its solar panels suffered repeated failures, including catching fire, Abound declared bankruptcy in early 2012 leaving taxpayers on the hook for nearly $70 million and even more at the state and local level. A former employee explained, “our solar modules worked so long as you didn’t put them in the sun.”
Abound Solar wasn’t the only pound-foolish Stimulus spending associated with Governor Ritter. During his administration, the Colorado Energy Office’s coffers swelled with almost $33 million in stimulus subsidies for weatherization efforts. According to a recent report by the Colorado Office of State Audits, the Ritter administration failed to even maintain an annual budget for the program. As a result, the audit was unable to demonstrate whether the money had been spent in a cost effective manor. All told, the auditor found that the energy agency could not properly account for almost $127 million in spending during the Ritter administration.
Ritter told the Fort Collins Coloradoan that the scathing audit accusing the agency under his watch of shoddy management practices was not the reason the President passed over him for Energy Secretary.
The former Governor is especially proud of the job creation associated with the New Energy Economy. To be sure, throwing taxpayer money at any industry would create jobs. The problem occurs when the public money spigot runs dry. In this context, an October 22, 2012 top fold, front page headline in the Denver Post is illuminating: “New energy” loses power; A series of setbacks cost over 1,000 jobs and threatens the state’s status in the industry. To put it another way, in the two years since Ritter left office, his New Energy Economy has atrophied in lockstep with the reduction in public funding.
Ritter has taken to proselytizing for the gospel of expensive energy. He founded the Center for the New Energy Economy, the purpose of which is to, “provide policy makers, governors, planners and other decision makers with a road map that will accelerate the nationwide development of a New Energy Economy.” He even brought with him the former head of the beleaguered energy office Tom Plant to work for him as a “policy advisor.”
So far Ritter’s bad energy policy has remained largely within the Centennial State, and, for now, that’s where it will stay. With the choice of Moniz, the rest of the country can breathe a sigh of relief. For Coloradans, we’re still stuck with him.
William Yeatman is the Assistant Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a policy analyst for the Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado. Amy Oliver Cooke is the Director of the Energy Policy Center for the Independence Institute