Ritter upbeat after Governors' conference

By Lucy McFadden
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Gov. Bill Ritter has returned from the Western Governor’s Association’s 2009 Annual Meeting with renewed enthusiasm for Colorado’s renewable energy plans.

In a conference call to reporters from Park City, Utah, where the three-day meeting ended on Tuesday, Ritter said he would leave confident that Colorado is on the right policy path.

“This was a very productive couple of days,” Ritter said. “My time here demonstrated that Colorado is absolutely on the right path with job creation, protecting our natural heritage and leading Colorado forward on energy and climate issues.”

Ritter said that although the group — which is composed of the governors of 19 western states and three U.S. territories — had reached consensus on several significant points, much remains to be done concerning the placement of power lines that will transmit electricity to consumers from wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric hubs.

On Monday, the WGA released the Western Renewable Energy Zones — Phase 1 Report identifying 54 such hubs — areas across the West that have the potential to provide enough renewable energy to power 5 million homes.

Four potential energy hubs are located in Colorado — one in south central Colorado for solar and three potential wind-power hubs on the Eastern Plains.

However, before any transmission lines are strung, their impact on wildlife and environment must be assessed.

Ritter said placement of the lines requires multifaceted analysis that considers the role that utilities and private operators will have in financing the project, as well as the role of credit markets, which are in flux.

“The feds are not looking to pick up the entire tab on transmission,” Ritter remarked, noting the complexity of the environmental and economic situation.

Several members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet attended the meeting, and Ritter said he was able to speak directly to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking him for help in preventing fires as the electric transmission lines go through forests infested by pine beetles.

Ritter also advocated expanding the discussion of energy transmission from the WGA to a national platform at the next meeting of the National Governor’s Association.

The governors will partner with the Western Electricity Coordinating Council to decide which placement of transmission lines will best protect the wildlife and surrounding environment.

In addition to Vilsack, Obama’s Cabinet was represented, at the meeting by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff and Nancy Sutley, who leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Ritter said discussions with Chu concerning transmission of renewable energy and Colorado’s access to federal stimulus dollars had been particularly fruitful.

“[Members of Obama’s administration] spoke eloquently about the role that renewable energy plays in transmission,” Ritter said. “I was impressed by Steve Chu. Salazar was a great breath of fresh air [when it came to] his attitude around the development of renewable energy and the role that public lands can play in that.”

Ritter said when the group discussed natural gas, he had reaffirmed his support for the construction of the Ruby Pipeline, which is a 675-mile-long, 42-inch-wide natural gas pipeline that will stretch from Wyoming to Oregon.

“Natural gas is important in terms of national security and economy,” Ritter said.

On the other hand, Ritter said he had written to Sutley before the meeting to express his opposition to construction of the proposed coal-fired Desert Rock power plant.

“Desert Rock is a coal-fired plant that is going to be built in New Mexico that will send lots of pollution to southwest Colorado,” Ritter explained.

He said on a recent trip to the region he could see pollution billowing from New Mexico’s Four Corners Power Plant, which already serves that area.

“It’s important to reiterate my opposition to permitting the operation of Desert Rock,” Ritter said. “The [Obama] administration has responded in a positive way because they decided to look at the permitting of Desert Rock again. Sutley said she understood our concern and that they were looking at it with a fresh set of eyes.

“Anytime she wants to come see it, we’ll go. It is really clear if you stand on the southern corner of the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation. You can see the emissions coming into southwest Colorado,” he lamented.

On the topic of water scarcity, Ritter said, “the real interesting part of the discussion was that we had two water experts from Israel and Australia. They looked at climate change and the possibility of less precipitation, but there was great optimism among this panel.

Ritter said he regretted that the governors of California, Nevada and New Mexico had taken a pass on the meeting because he would have liked to discuss Colorado River issues with them. Nevertheless, he said, even without those governors, the conversation was optimistic.

Lucy@coloradostatesman.com