Sun shines as Ritter signs renewable energy act

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

On Earth Day in Civic Center Park, under the bright Colorado blue sky, Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law the Renewable Energy Finance Act, which offers residents and utility companies financial incentives to install solar electric systems.

Gov. Bill Ritter laughs at a joke told by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper during an Earth Day celebration and bill signing on Wednesday.
Photo by Jason Kosena
The Colorado Statesman

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, and Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, extends homeowner financing for solar electric systems, offers additional compensation choices for the energy those systems produce and creates incentives to motivate utility companies to make solar rebate programs more accessible to customers at all income levels.

Ritter used the bill signing as an opportunity to continue touting his vision of a new Colorado economy based on production of energy from new sources, conservation and research.

“The New Energy Economy is leading Colorado forward by developing sustainable energy industries that provide clean power and good jobs,” Ritter said before signing the legislation. “With broad support, this legislation will expand the ways in which Coloradans can finance solar and other efficiency projects, regardless of income levels.”

Levy, who steered the bill through what was sometimes fierce opposition in the House, said the legislation would benefit all Coloradans who want to become more energy efficient, and not just those who can easily afford it.

“This bill will allow more of us to participate in the New Energy Economy,” Levy said. “Most importantly, residents of affordable housing developments and nonprofit entities will now be able to afford solar electric and energy efficiency improvements. (It) will generate millions of dollars in new investment in renewable energy and is a win-win for Colorado.”

Ritter and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper also used the international day of environmental recognition to announce a $100,000 donation to Colorado from the Democratic National Convention’s 2008 Host Committee for the purchase of carbon-offset projects. The donation compensates for 4,976 metric tons of carbon dioxide tied to emissions from travel, vehicle use and other non-electric energy use related to DNC activities.

Gov. Bill Ritter speaks to a kiosk operator during his stroll through Civic Center Park after a bill signing ceremony on Wednesday.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

“The Host Committee’s generous donation to the Colorado Carbon Fund completes our efforts to ensure that locally sponsored activities around the 2008 convention were carbon-neutral,” Hickenlooper said, adding extra praise for the efforts of Denver leaders who helped make the 2008 convention the greenest in history.

“This is a huge accomplishment; our community and state can be very proud,” Hickenlooper said.

As he expressed appreciation for the $100,000 gift, Ritter — who played an important role in landing the DNC for Denver — said Colorado’s environmental efforts during the event should serve as a model. He noted that the state’s success shows how environmental awareness, in addition to benefiting the people who are directly involved in an event, also helps the state as a whole.

“Colorado’s New Energy Economy and the Colorado Carbon Fund are leading Colorado forward, thanks to locally developed clean technologies that are helping to create good jobs and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions,” Ritter said. “The DNC and the partnerships that led to this $100,000 donation are a great example of how
we can be better environmental stewards while also strengthening our economy.”

Mike Dino, the 2008 Convention Host Committee CEO, said this donation is the final step in its greening commitment for the convention.

“The Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee practiced greening from beginning to end, from the inside out. We implemented a sustainability management system in our offices and used environmentally responsible approaches whenever possible for organizing activities. Then, after the convention folded up its tents and left town, and we had prevented all of the negative environmental impact we could, we zeroed out the carbon impact for which the Host Committee was responsible with a $99,520 investment in the Colorado Carbon Fund.”

Gov. Bill Ritter signs the Renewable Energy Finance Act in Civic Center Park on Wednesday. Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, stands behind Ritter while Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, center, and Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, stand to the right.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

The Colorado Carbon Fund, established by the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO), will direct the donation to support new energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in Colorado. The Host Committee selected the Colorado Carbon Fund to offset the carbon footprint of the event because the homegrown focus of the fund means new energy projects will be developed locally. Twenty percent of Denver’s donations to the fund will return to the city to support its Greenprint Denver Climate Action Plan and other program initiatives.

After the bill signing, Ritter took a few moments to walk around Civic Center Park and chat with passers-by about Earth Day and renewable energy. A group of schoolchildren stopped him after the event to ask what he was doing in the park, and one bearded young man stopped the governor as he strode amid the vendors and tents set up as part of the Earth Day celebration. The man asked Ritter why the state wasn’t working harder to find better uses for landfills.

“We just build soccer fields over the landfills now — and yet so much methane is just escaping into the air. Why aren’t we trying to trap that?” he asked.

Ritter, who had removed his suit jacket and thrown it over one shoulder, asked the man to walk with him as they talked.

“We’re looking at ways we can do that right now,” the governor said. “It’s all part of the process.”

Jason@coloradostatesman.com