Environmental groups are champing at the bit for an opportunity to put more green power into Colorado's energy mix, and this year they've got two chances to do so.
House Speaker Lola Spradley, R-Beulah, has introduced a bill that would require utilities to generate or buy a specific amount of renewable energy on an increasing scale for the next 14 years. Should it fail, Environment Colorado and the Sierra Club have filed proposed language for an initiative that could be on the ballot in November. It would require electrical utilities with at least 100,000 retail customers to get 10 percent of their power supply from renewable sources by 2012 and 20 percent by 2022.
Yampa Valley Electric Company has approximately 24,000 active customers in Northwest Colorado and southern Wyoming, and is a co-op, so neither the bill, nor the citizen initiative would affect it, but the company opposes both proposals philosophically.
"We're not against green power, we think green power is a great resource, but we think it should be an optional resource," said Jim Chappell, manager of consumer accounts at YVEA.
Making the market for green power consumer-driven makes good business sense he said, and that demand isn't evident -- at least not in Northwest Colorado where one-tenth of 1 percent of YVEA's electricity comes from renewable resources.
YVEA buys green power in blocks and sells it to customers for $3 per year per block.
One block equals 100 kilowatt hours a month -- about 15 percent of a typical residential customer's monthly electric usage. Customers can buy as many blocks of wind energy as they wish.
The program started in 1999. By the end of 2000, YVEA was selling 700 blocks a year. It stayed at 700 through 2001 and then declined in 2002 and again in 2003, when 638 blocks were sold.
Chappell attributes the decrease to an overall increase in the price of electricity.
"It's not because people feel green power is any less valuable," he said.
Currently, Colorado gets less than 1 percent of its total energy supply from renewable energy.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission wouldn't be impacted by the legislation, because it is a co-op and an energy producer, not a distributor.
Tri-State has responded to the demand by purchasing 8,154 megawatt hours of green power per year for distribution to its member systems.
Of Tri-State's 44 member cooperatives, 22 contract for green power. Eight of those are in Colorado.
"It's growing very slowly, strictly based on the end demand of the consumer," Tri-State spokesman Jim Van Someran said.
Xcel Energy, the state's largest electricity provider, said the initiative's goals were reasonable and attainable.
''Xcel will build as much wind energy as our customers want to buy,'' said Wayne Brunetti, the company's chairman and chief executive. Xcel has been offering wind energy to customers at an extra cost for five years.
Environmental groups say current legislation doesn't go far enough to ensure Americans have power for the long-term. The only way to do that, said Jaimie Wimberly, vice president of the Consumer Energy Council of America, is to invest in efficient and renewable energy sources.
"Alternative energy is more expensive, but it has come down," Wimberly said. "The more consumers use it, the cheaper it gets."
Hydroelectricity, the leading source of renewable energy, provides more than 97 percent of all electricity generated by renewable sources worldwide. Other sources including solar, geothermal, wind, and biomass account for less than 3 percent of renewable electricity production.
In the United States, 81 percent of the electricity produced by renewable sources comes from hydropower. Worldwide, about 20 percent of all electricity is generated by hydropower. Some regions depend on it more than others. For example, 75 percent of the electricity produced in New Zealand and more than 99 percent of the electricity produced in Norway come from hydropower.
The use of hydropower prevents the burning of 22 billion gallons of oil or 120 million tons of coal each year.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at email@example.com.