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Colo. gubernatorial candidates face off over 100% renewable energy

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Colo. gubernatorial candidates face off over 100% renewable energy

When Coloradans on Nov. 6 cast their vote for the state's next governor, they will choose between a Democrat calling for 100% renewable energy by 2040 and a Republican who claims the "extreme" idea will hurt consumers.

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat representing Colorado's Second Congressional District, is running against Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton to replace outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. Polis has made reaching a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2040 a key part of his campaign. Moving away from fossil fuels, Polis has argued, will save consumers money, create jobs and limit climate change.

Stapleton, pointing to a study done for free-market think tank Independence Institute that finds Polis' idea could cost nearly $45 billion, rejects the proposal. During an Oct. 6 debate, Stapleton referred to the proposal as an "extreme radical energy position" that will burden consumers with additional costs. Opposing renewable energy mandates, Stapleton favors the use of all energy resources, including fossil fuels.

Colorado's existing renewable energy standard calls for investor-owned utilities to obtain 30% of their electricity by 2020 from renewable resources, and 10% or 20% for municipalities and electric cooperatives, depending on their size.

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis
Source: Polis campaign

"In both the short and long term, this transition will help fuel a vibrant Colorado economy," Polis said on his campaign website.

If elected, Polis plans to increase incentives for grid infrastructure upgrades and smart grid investments, appoint members to the state Public Utilities Commission who support consumers and renewable energy and retrain those in the coal industry for green jobs.

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State Treasurer Walker Stapleton
Source: Stapleton campaign

Stapleton has taken a different approach on energy policy, highlighting on his campaign site the $30 billion contribution to the state from its oil and gas industry. He wants to make use of Colorado's coal, oil, gas, wind, sun and hydro resources to help preserve what he calls a stable business environment.

"Under my leadership, businesses can be certain that they will not be hit with agenda-driven, burdensome, job-killing regulations," he said on his campaign site.

Both candidates oppose ballot measure Proposition 112, which would require any new oil and gas development to take place at least 2,500 feet from occupied structures or other designated buildings. In 2014 Polis backed, but later withdrew support from, a ballot measure to set a 2,000-foot setback.

Colorado has historically been reliant on coal mining and drilling for oil and gas for a substantial part of its economy. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association's most recent study on the topic showed that the upstream and midstream oil and natural gas sectors have a $32 billion impact to Colorado's economy annually. According to the National Mining Association, coal mining contributed $1.93 billion to Colorado's gross domestic product.

Nevertheless, a number of communities in the state, including Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins and Pueblo, have already set a goal to move to 100% renewable energy.

Better Colorado Now, an independent expenditure committee supporting Stapleton, has raised a little more than $3.2 million this election cycle. Donors to that group include Crestone Peak Resources LLC, which gave $200,000; DCP Midstream LP, which gave $250,000; and FourPoint Energy LLC President and CEO George Solich, who has given the group $110,000, a campaign finance report filed with the state shows.

Good Jobs Colorado, an independent expenditure committee that supports the Democratic nominee for governor, has raised about $5.1 million this election cycle. The Sierra Club donated $200,000 to the group, according campaign finance report. The group has also gotten money from Bold Colorado, another pro-Democratic nominee committee. Highlands Natural Resources, Corp. has given $10,000 to that committee, a state record shows.

Jim Alexee, director of Colorado's Sierra Club, said people support renewable energy for environmental and economic reasons. "Folks are realizing there's a whole new energy economy and they want to make sure that they're not left behind," he said.

Should voters back Polis, Alexee thinks the congressman will be able to find a way to build consensus with state lawmakers who would also have to back the idea of a zero-carbon grid.

A poll released Oct. 10 gave Polis an 11-point lead over Stapleton. The poll of registered voters from the Colorado Health Foundation and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 44% of respondents support the Polis and 33% support Stapleton.

J.R. Tolbert, vice president of state policy for Advanced Energy Economy, or AEE, said issues like education and healthcare motivate many to cast votes. However, public opinion polling also shows that a vast majority of voters support clean energy and oppose efforts to weaken the role that advanced energy and clean technology play in meeting energy needs. Renewables are proving to be the most cost-effective way for meeting energy needs, and Stapleton has not offered a more specific vision, Tolbert said: "Saying you're for all of the above is like rejecting the other side's argument on a policy without offering something that can provide a counter."

Colorado's major utility, Xcel Energy Inc., in September got formal approval from state regulators for its Colorado Energy Plan, which calls for closing coal units and using more wind, solar and battery storage to meet the electricity needs of customers in the state.