Guest Commentary: Colorado needs a PUC commissioner with clean energy goals
By Morgan Carroll and Dickey Lee Hullinghorst
In the coming weeks, Gov. John Hickenlooper has the opening to make his mark on Colorado's clean energy future with a new appointment to replace Matt Baker on the Public Utilities Commission. The governor should use this as an opportunity for strong leadership to continue Colorado's progress toward cleaner power generation, while keeping electricity affordable and reasonably priced.
Baker played a big role in Colorado's move to clean energy. His replacement should be like-minded, keeping a close eye on utility rates, but also watching the human health and environmental impact of our energy choices.
While our energy policy has produced great results for customers and the environment, the biggest impact of Colorado's efforts around renewable energy has been on the state's economy. Clean energy was the only sector of Colorado's economy that actually grew during the recession. And investors continue to pour money into Colorado's clean energy sector. Dow Solar chose Colorado as the first market to roll out its new solar roofing shingles. Ernst & Young rates Colorado as the third most attractive state overall for renewable energy development, and second most attractive for wind energy investment.
Finally, there are the jobs: Colorado has the nation's highest per-capita employment in the solar industry, even higher than California. To keep this sector growing, it is imperative that the PUC remains committed to smart investments in clean energy.
Moreover, over the past six years, the PUC has shown that reasonable utility rates and bold investment in clean energy don't have to be in conflict. Xcel Energy has grown to be the largest wind provider in the nation. When Colorado Xcel customers turn on a light, one kilowatt-hour out of seven comes from renewable energy. Plus, Xcel's customers are adding rooftop solar at a rapid clip.
And yet Xcel's rates have gone up less than the rate of inflation. In January 2006, 500 kWh of electricity cost an Xcel residential customer $48.25. Six years later, the bill was $51, up only $2.75 (6.5 percent). During the same period, the cost of living, measured by inflation, went up more than 14 percent — twice as fast.
The coal industry and its allies have called on the governor to pursue a "balanced" energy plan. But we've got some work to do, as our state's electricity mix is anything but balanced now. Coal is still the dominant generation fuel in Colorado, accounting in 2010 for 68 percent of the electricity sold by the state's utilities. Given coal's lopsided market share, balance requires Colorado to continue to focus strongly on moving away from dirty fossil fuels and toward clean renewable energy resources.
Gov. Hickenlooper should appoint a commissioner who will continue the progress made by the Colorado PUC to move toward clean energy while keeping rates fair. That will be good for customers, for the environment, and for Colorado's economy.
Printable Version of this Page