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Ritter talks alternative energy in Aspen

John Colson
Aspen Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO

ASPEN ” Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on Thursday called on the Bush administration, congressional leaders and other officials to do more to foster alternative energy research in Colorado and the West, in part by extending tax credits for investors and producers.

“We can do all sorts of things,” Ritter said, referring to efforts by his administration, private businesses and local groups in Colorado and other states to advance alternative energy technologies and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But, he continued, “We need help at the federal level. If we don’t alter the conversation at the national levels, all our efforts will be for naught.”



He called on conference participants to tell their elected representatives that alternative energy, global warming and related issues are important and need to be addressed. In particular, Ritter suggested that U.S. presidential and congressional candidates need to weigh in on these topics more than they have to date.

Ritter also declared that natural gas and coal will continue to be critical parts of Colorado’s overall role in the national picture, and indicated general support for continued research into the fledgling oil shale industry.



Ritter, speaking at the Aspen Environment Forum at the Aspen Institute, followed a roster of presenters that ended with Andre Damdem Tohan of the Congo. Tohan spoke about the need to help indigenous peoples learn about such concepts as energy conservation and alternatives; Ritter noted that he spent several years living in Zambia in the late 1970s, where he learned firsthand how inventive indigenous people can be when they have access to the appropriate resources.

And now, in Colorado, “there is the ability to change the conversation,” to bring the business community together with the government and a groundswell of citizen activism, to come up with different approaches to energy production and conservation.

Pointing to his administration’s focus on “Colorado’s new energy economy,” Ritter noted that the state is rich in traditional energy resources such as coal and natural gas. But in order to set the stage for true energy security, those traditional resources have to be joined with newer, alternative technologies.

Ritter said his gubernatorial campaign was centered around the idea of “building wind farms in wheat fields” and making the state’s colleges and universities over into research centers for energy alternatives.

“And the people of this state agreed,” he declared, referring to his election to the governor’s job, and to such recent initiatives as plans for wind generators and solar generation facilities in the San Luis Valley, and Xcel Energy’s announced plans to create a “fully-integrated smart grid” that will allow customers to monitor their energy use and change their habits to save money and fuel.

Ritter also heralded the hiring of Heidi VanGenderen as his new “climate change advisor”; VanGenderen is charged with helping to shape his administration’s proposals for reversing the state’s contribution to global warming. Ritter said Colorado is hoping to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over the next 12 years, and by 80 percent over the next 40 years.

Asked by some constituents where all this fervor for alternative energy comes from, Ritter explained, “For me, it comes from my children,” who are in their teens.

“In 30 or 40 years, their lives will be dramatically different in as far as how they consume energy,” he said, adding that it is up to the current crop of leaders to prepare the groundwork for change.

As an example, he said the National Association of Governors met recently under the theme, “Toward a Clean Energy Future,” adding that while some governors felt the theme was not appropriate, most went along.

But it is at the federal level, he said, that laws and rules must be written to encourage private-sector participation in the changes to come

“We still need national leadership on this issue,” he emphasized.

In response to questions from the audience, which spilled out of the McNulty room of the Doerr-Hosier Center and into the lobby of the institute , Ritter seemed generally enthusiastic about current research into “in-situ” oil shale extraction technology.

Pointing to the concept of heating the oil-like substance called kerogen, which is found in rocks embedded deep in the mountains of the Western Slope, Ritter said the “in-situ” process is “far better than the open pit mining” that Exxon was researching during Colorado’s oil shale boom of late 1970s and early 1980s.

But, he said, the state needs to know about everything from environmental impacts of the extraction process to the social and political effects that can be expected, if the industry gets going, before the needed permits are granted by the federal government.

As for coal, he said it inevitably will continue to play a big role in the state’s energy picture, but maintained that the important work now is to find ways to mine it and consume it in more environmentally sustainable ways.

If coal were eliminated from the energy equation in Colorado, Ritter stated, “Our economy could really collapse.”

Natural gas also will play an important part, he said, in large part because it is less environmentally damaging than coal. He called natural gas “a great transition fuel” that can help the state wean itself from its heavy reliance on coal and toward greater use of renewables.


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