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My Side

Auden Schendler

Colorado isn’t a state of country bumpkins, but we’re sure acting like time-trapped hillbillies when it comes to renewable energy.

Despite the fact that our state has superb wind and solar energy resources, and a growing volume of biofuels from forest thinning, we’re still one vote shy of passing progressive renewable energy legislation in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 168 authorizes the formation of renewable energy cooperatives, but also includes an amendment to require utilities to gradually increase their portion of electricity produced by wind, biomass, hydroelectricity, geo-thermal, and solar energy. This measure is known as a “renewable portfolio standard.”

Creating renewable energy coops fosters local ownership of small-scale wind farms and encourages economic development in hard-hit rural areas.

John Klomp, a Pueblo County commissioner, said he has his fingers crossed on the bill. “We really want to see these development dollars come to rural Colorado.”

The renewable portfolio standard aspect of the bill is something our western neighbors like Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas ” which have equally good renewable resources ” passed long ago. Texas passed such a standard when George Bush was in office. It wasn’t an environmental issue, it was a business decision.

Colorado businesses ” in particular ski resorts ” have their fingers crossed on the renewables bill as well, for another reason. The bill helps address climate change.

Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, says Colorado is uniquely vulnerable to climate change because of how warming would affect snow, water and fire, three forces of nature that literally govern our lives in the West.

Best estimates from climate change models suggest we’d get less snowmelt, yet have more need for water. We’d also potentially see more droughts, beetle kills, fires, and lightning ignitions.

In fact, Southern California’s wildfires in 2003, the most expensive natural disaster in that state’s history, were so destructive because of precisely those conditions predicted to be more common with climate change. Ski resorts don’t want this, but neither do ranchers, farmers, fishing guides or hunters.

In fact, business as a whole is getting antsy about climate change. Last week, public pension funds representing $800 billion wrote SEC chairman William Donaldson arguing for the need to incorporate climate risk into standard corporate disclosure practices.

The pension funds wrote that “Recent evidence suggests that in certain sectors the cost of climate change to shareholder value can represent as much as 15 percent of the total market capitalization of major companies.”

Meanwhile, Fortune magazine reported recently on a Pentagon study of worst-case scenarios resulting from climate change. One scenario is a state of perpetual global warfare.

Or, as British journalist Hu Williams says, “If you thought things were bad when we were fighting over oil, imagine what it will be like when we’re fighting over water.”

The point isn’t to get apocalyptic, the point is that mainstream businesses, media, government agencies, and individuals, nationally and in Colorado, now want and need renewable energy legislation, for a host of good reasons, the least of which is environmental.

And yet, the environmental reasons are compelling as well. Clean air from renewable energy production reduces statewide health care costs (helping to address a growing childhood asthma pandemic), improves our famous views and cuts down on acid rain.

Colorado, the recreational hub of the West, should be ahead of the pack, not lagging, on environmental issues like clean air and climate protection.

Colorado, with rural communities suffering economic woes, should be taking action to tap abundant renewable resources as a path toward economic revival.

Some 80 percent of Colorado voters support renewables. They don’t see a downside, because there isn’t one. So what are we waiting for?

” Auden Schendler is the director of environmental affairs for the Aspen Skiing Co.

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