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Former Colo. governor calls for 'energy revolution' to disrupt established order

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Former Colo. governor calls for 'energy revolution' to disrupt established order

While fossil fuels have provided a path to prosperity in theU.S., their emissions are now undermining the quality of life they helped tocreate, Bill Ritter Jr., who served as Colorado's governor from 2007 to 2011,writes in his new book, PoweringForward: What Everyone Should Know about America's Energy Revolution,published by Fulcrum Publishing.

The need for a "radical transformation" of theU.S. energy economy, according to Ritter, is not an indictment of the benefitsoffered by fossil fuels, industrialization and capitalism over the pastcentury. But a "clean energy revolution" will certainly change theflow of capital into the industries that have "enlisted in the revolt"against traditional energy resources, he writes in the book.

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr.
Source: Center for the New Energy Economy

"The revolution we need today would definitely disruptthe established order — our fossil energy economy — but it is neithersubversive nor violent," Ritter explains. "It is bloodless, but farfrom gutless."

Ritter's hoped-for energy revolution would change investmentstrategies as limits on carbon emissions constrain the production andconsumption of coal, oil and eventually natural gas. The most creativeentrepreneurs in the U.S. are already working on next-generation batteries,alternative fuels and electric vehicles, he writes.

As governor of Colorado, Ritter recalls, he worked to findcommon ground with the fossil fuel and renewable energy industries. Many in theoil and gas industry, according to Ritter, see it as their job to resist anynew rules placed on their industry, even if it is minimal.

However, once the battle is over and the outcome decided,vested interests adapt and thrive with "reasonable regulations," hewrites. "[O]il and gas companies have told us that reasonable regulationsare beneficial. They help weed out the 'bad actors' that exist in everyindustry, they prevent competitors from engaging in unfair practices, and theyincrease public confidence in oil and gas production," he says.

In 2006, when Ritter was elected governor, 2% of the state'senergy came from renewable energy. When he left the governorship in 2011,renewable energy resources, including hydropower, provided 14% of the state'snet electric generation, well above the national average, which was 9%, he says.

Ritter writes that XcelEnergy Inc., the largest electric utility in Colorado, evolved fromone of the most formidable opponents to the creation of the state's renewableportfolio standard to an advocate for its expansion.

Between 2007 and 2011, the Colorado Legislature passed 57new laws that "reinvented the state's energy policies," Ritterwrites. Among them was an increase in the RPS, this time requiringinvestor-owned utilities generate 30% of their electricity with renewableresources by 2020 without raising their electric rates more than 2%. The newRPS gave Colorado one of the toughest renewable requirements in the nation,second only to California, he recalls.

Ritter refers to the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which hesigned into law in2010, as the capstone to the state's energy initiatives when he was in office.The law sought to replace or re-fire 900 MW of coal-fired power with naturalgas, renewable energy or energy efficiency by 2017.

Natural gas companies, according to Ritter, supported thelegislation because it would expand their market share in the power generationsector. Environmental groups joined with conservatives who believed it wasbetter for the state to protect air quality than to rely on the U.S. EPA to doit.

At the time, Xcel Energy estimated the cost of the law wouldbe $1.3 billion, or $1.16 to the average monthly electric bill of itscustomers, according to Ritter. Since then, Xcel Energy has found that theaverage monthly increase for its customers has been 5 cents a month, he writes.

In 2011, after leaving the governorship, Ritter founded and servesas the director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado StateUniversity, an organization that workswith governors, legislators, regulators, planners and policymakers on cleanenergy issues. Ritter also is a member of the board of the directors of theEnergy Foundation, a clean energy philanthropic group, and a senior fellow andboard member of the Advanced Energy Economy Institute.

As governor, Ritter says his administration focused on "sociallyand environmentally responsible" production of oil and gas in the state.But he wonders whether the oil and gas industry, as a whole, is willing toenter into a social contract in which it commits to responsible production. InMarch 2015, the federal government issuedwhat Ritter describes as its definition of responsible production in the formof a new regulation from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of LandManagement for oil and gas production on federal lands. The BLM, according toRitter, allowed an unusually long period for public comment, during which itreceived more than 1.5 million comments, before finalizing the rule.

However,several industry groups and oil- and gas-producing states sued the BLM afterthe rule was finalized and a federal judge ordered that its implementation be delayed."Whether or not the rule deserved intervention by the courts, the industrywould have done more good for its social license by complying voluntarily withthe BLM's production requirements on both public and private lands,"Ritter writes. "It might have helped dispel the perception that thenatural gas boom is 'a land grab and drilling frenzy.'"

Nevertheless,Ritter believes natural gas needs to be part of the energy mix in the U.S. fordecades to come if the energy revolution is to be successful. "Whetherthat turns out to be the case, however, depends in no small part on theindustry's willingness to enter into a social contract with the communitiesthat are worried about modern oil and gas production," he writes.