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United States

Two states increase green mandates -- Doubling up demand

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New Mexico, with just short of 500 MW of wind power, and Colorado, with nearly 300 MW, are both doubling up on their ability to produce more green energy and attract new development by strengthening existing minimum standards for the proportion of renewable energy in the supply mix. The two states have more in common than a border. Colorado is the 11th windiest state, while New Mexico ranks 12th. Both have vast open areas, sparsely populated and windy. And both now want large utilities to get 20% of their electricity from renewables by 2020.

In New Mexico, where Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill into law last month, the new standard also requires large utilities to reach 15% by 2015, while co-operatively owned electricity suppliers must reach 5% by 2015 and 10% by 2020. The old standard, set in 2004, required 10% by 2011 for large utilities and limited consumer cost increases to 1%. The new law ups the increase limit to 2%. "We have a lot of wind resource," says Ben Luce of the New Mexico Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy. "There are several companies looking at doing new wind projects here -- Iberdrola and FPL Energy, for example. But they are not the only ones."

New Mexico, with only 1.7 million people, is a major exporter of renewables to Nevada, Arizona and California. But, according to Jeanne Bassett of Environment New Mexico, those states are less and less interested in importing anything other than clean power. "Right now we get 87% of our energy from coal," Bassett says. "And it comes from two of the dirtiest plants in the country because they're two of the oldest. So this will help us diversify our energy sources and give ranchers another cash crop. It will make a tremendous difference to New Mexico." New efforts at improving transmission will also enable wind energy to get to customers, both in and out of state (page 44).

New Mexico's largest electricity provider, PNM, serves 425,000 customers in 100 communities. The company owns no wind facilities but has bought power from FPL Energy's 204 MW New Mexico Wind Energy Center since 2003. More than 7% of PNM's electricity comes from renewable sources. "We are ahead of where the standards are today," says Susan Sponar of PNM. "But we do support these changes and we're very open about it."

Colorado keeps step

In Colorado, where Democrats run both legislative houses and the Governor's office, passage of the 20% by 2020 renewable energy standard (RES), along with a 10% target for co-ops, seems imminent. In 2004, Colorado became the first state where voters bypassed lawmakers to introduce a RES requiring 10% by 2015. Xcel Energy, which sells electricity to nearly 1.5 million Colorado customers, expects to meet the 10% standard by year's end, seven years early. It was against the voter mandate for being restrictive.

"We're adding 775 MW of wind in Colorado by the end of this year," says Xcel's Mark Stutz. "We serve about 70% of the state's customers and it's costing them about thirty-six cents a month on their bills. We're supporting the legislation."

The American Wind Energy Association's Ron Lehr expects that Colorado's RES will need to be boosted again long before 2020. "The case now has been made so well that wind plants are cost-effective and a good deal," Lehr says. "When the wind blows, we can turn off the gas plants, and gas is expensive. The eastern third of the state is a high plain and you can put a lot of wind turbines into that kind of environment. Those counties are crying out for the stuff."

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