The New Energy Economy

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    Wind Turbines. Photograph by Wesley Stockton

    The Center for the New Energy Economy is an organization at Colorado State University that seeks to help states and legislators in the United States start thinking about energy policy and how economic policies can really be impacted by what laws are passed to regulate energy. The founder of the Center, former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, recently spoke at the University of Colorado Wirth Chair’s Sustainability Series to address these issues with students, architects, engineers, business leaders, non profits, and other sustainability innovators in the Front Range region.

    As Colorado’s Governor, Ritter’s policy decisions focused a lot around clean energy and public partnerships with private industries and businesses in the energy sector to start bringing Colorado’s energy policy in line with what it needs to be to save money, address climate change, and help out tax payers and residents. After he left office, Ritter founded the Center in order to keep moving forward with developing new ideas in energy policy. Using his work in Colorado as an example, the Center has since worked with a number of other Governors across the country as well as several other public and private institutions.

    In his talk at the Sustainability Series, Ritter broke down the ways of thinking about energy policy into four easy to remember categories, the 4 E’s: Energy, Environment, Economic Development, and Equality. Similar to the Triple Bottom Line approach to sustainability (i.e. People, Planet, Profit) the 4 E’s are a simple way to organize, evaluate, and develop energy policy.

    Solar Panels outside Nellis Air Force Base. Source: theregeneration on flickr

    Energy

    The first E, Energy, is about the energy itself and how to clean it up. There are two main strategies that the Center focuses on in trying to clean up a state or nation’s energy portfolio. The first is to work with domestic resources as much as possible, and making sure that these domestic options are clean. Start by cleaning up domestic sources by switching to cleaner options – such as wind, solar, and others – as well as fazing out dirty options. Secondly, the Center focuses on strategies to increase efficiency where clean energy resources are less of a viable option. New clean technology investments as well as smart grid developments and the like are some of the ideas that the Center has put forward in the past.

    Environment

    The second E, the Environment, is about the public health benefits of clean energy policies regardless of the obvious benefits of mitigating climate change. By focusing on cleaner energies, all sorts of benefits to the public are gained. From air pollution reduction, to avoiding ground water contamination, to maintaining soil quality for safe and efficient food production, clean energy is called clean for a reason. The massive amounts of pollution that the industrial machine has introduced into the environment has had negative impacts on human populations for longer than anyone was thinking about how the health of the whole biosphere could be effected. Despite the repeated proofs of the implications of dirty energy production to human health, it is a problem that legislators in the United States and around the world struggle against still to this day.

    Economic Development

    The third E, Economic Development, shows that a clean energy economy is an economy that can grow and support other industries as well. During the four years that Governor Ritter was in office, between 2007 and 2011 during the height of the recent economic crises and recession, he worked with the Colorado Legislature to sign into law 57 bills to support clean energy industries. In the state of Colorado during that four year period of economic downturn, the clean technology and clean energy sector was the only industry that saw growth. Colorado currently has more jobs per capita in the solar industries than any other state in the U.S.

    Equality

    Power Lines

    Power Lines

    The final E, Equality, is all about protecting the energy consumer. Energy prices are a major factor in deciding how and when and if people use, or are able to use energy. Making sure that energy rates stay affordable for the rate payer, is an important factor in making sure that clean energy is a viable solution. One of the main roadblocks to clean energy development is the presupposition that clean energy is more expensive. By mandating a 2% rate cap along with a 30% shift towards renewable energy options by 2020 for Xcel Energy, the main energy provider in Colorado, Ritter’s office was able to both protect the rate payer against what could have been an enormous spike in energy prices as well as letting Xcel discover that they could produce 30% clean energy by 2020 without actually needing to charge more than 2% more. In fact, they were able to make a 10% shift without it making any impact at all on the cost of production.

    The example set forward by Colorado under Ritter’s leadership shows solid proof that lofty clean energy goals can be set and met in a way that is beneficial to both planet, people, and profit. All that it requires is focusing on these four E’s and how to push the envelope in policy decisions, technological developments, and financing options in order to benefit all four of them at once. The Center for the New Energy Economy from Colorado State University is working with governors, legislators, and private industries around the nation to help push the states, and the nation, towards these energy policy goals.

    The University of Colorado Wirth Chair Sustainability Series is a monthly forum on sustainability with speakers from non profits, businesses, and government from all over the mountain region. In the new year, look forward to speakers on a number of topics ranging from grid utility, the population problem, food production, bio fuels, and more. You can view the video of Governor Ritter’s presentation below: