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United States

Political vision leads to real progress -- In Romer's wake

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Colorado gets a better-than-average "B" grade from renewables advocates in following through on its bold commitments to wind and renewables over the past two years. While progress is slower than some would like, the state's main utility and new state government are continuing a plan begun by Roy Romer, the visionary governor who spearheaded a state drive for clean power in late 1997.

At that time, Romer, a Democrat, announced that the governor's mansion would be powered by wind, and he laid out a ten point program that he proclaimed would make Colorado a "world centre for renewables" (Windpower Monthly, February 1998). Nearly a million dollars was set aside to help launch the initiative, mostly for education. In addition, Romer called for the installation of 250 MW of green power within ten years -- about one-fifth of the state's future energy needs -- and set up an Office of Energy Conservation.

Today, republican Governor Bill Owens occupies the governor's mansion, and the Office of Energy Conservation is now the Office of Energy Management, perhaps reflecting the lobby power of the Colorado coal industry. Romer's vision has not vanished, however. Owens continues to buy power from WindSource, the green pricing program of the state's largest utility, Public Service Co (PSCo). In addition, PSCo now allows for net metering, where ratepayers can offset their electricity consumption with their own generation, and it discloses its resource mix on power bills. Plus, Colorado customers receive some of their electricity from the 50 MW of wind developed since Romer's ten-point plan was initiated.

This, says Eric Blank of the grassroots Land and Water Fund of the Rockies (LAW Fund), earns the state a "B" for its efforts on a five point grading scale -- at least on wind power development. The LAW Fund markets PSCo's WindSource green pricing program to commercial and industrial users in the state. "The commitment is more symbolic than it is real," Blank says of the new government's promise to continue Romer's program. "But they did reaffirm the ten points and progress continues." Romer spent more on education and promotion for the plan than Owens has done, Blank says. "Now the spending for education is a lot less, but some of the big projects are still getting attention."

Green demand

Regardless of the changes around the edges of the program, adds Rudd Mayer of the LAW Fund, demand for wind has increased. In March alone, three large firms joined the over 400 Colorado businesses that already buy wind energy. Hewlitt Packard signed up for the WindPower product offered by Fort Collins Utilities, while CH2M Hill, an international engineering firm, and Samsonite Corp, both in Denver, signed up for WindSource. Mayer expects more large customers will make similar announcements by Earth Day, April 22.

New wind plant development is also ongoing. The state now has 25 MW of installed wind capacity in the rate base of 21 Colorado utilities and another 25 MW driven directly by green pricing programs. Half of the development is on Colorado soil, while the other half is in Wyoming. In addition, 14 of PSCo's subsidiary utilities have elected to buy wind at a premium price for their customers through Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc of Colorado.

The WindSource program is making large strides in driving wind development, according to Mayer. She says PSCo now has 16,000 customers signed up for the product, including 400 businesses. Along with other small utilities, the state total is about 18,000 customers.

Advocates now worry that PSCo's plans for developing wind may move too slowly to capture the benefits of the federal Production Tax Credit. PSCo's draft integrated resource plan, includes a further 25 MW of rate-based wind resources, starting in 2002 and phasing them in over four years in 6.25 MW increments, says Mayer. "As renewable energy advocates, we believe this is too little, too late," she says. "This may not be enough, given the tax credit will expire in the next couple of years and the strong response we're now getting to wind power from customers."

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