(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
Eight years ago I gave the commencement address for the Colorado State University – College of Agriculture Sciences graduates. Colorado citizens had just voted to establish the first citizens-initiated portfolio standard in America, Amendment 37. The initiative, an epic 'David v. Goliath' story that only came about after three failed attempts in the Republican-controlled state legislature in the years 2002-2004 to find a legislative remedy. Initiated by activists in the Boulder corridor, the amendment has served to benefit urban and rural interests alike: Xcel customers have experienced a greater stability in their cost structure, rural Colorado is home to nearly $6 billion in wind developments – bringing with it a strong tax base and jobs – and the platform for the Ritter-era New Energy Economy was born.
But as I stood on that platform in Ft. Collins on that evening in December of 2005, little did I know that our recent success at the ballot box would, eight years hence, serve as a platform for the White House and our Department of Defense to accelerate a new energy future. Amendment 37 buoyed a then-nascent "25x'25" alliance – a group of agriculturally-centric leaders who saw the opportunity for rural America to both participate and lead the almost-certain energy transition. A goal: 25% of America's energy coming from renewables by the year 2025 – a year that seemed light years away.
As a co-founder of the alliance, it became obvious to me that magnifying the Colorado success in to a national platform was a winning combination. And Colorado stepped to the plate. The Denver Post was the first major US newspaper to endorse our vision; the Rocky Mountain Farmer Union and Colorado Farm Bureau were the first groups amongst their national organization to give us a 'thumbs up'. The Colorado legislature, in a bi-partisan resolution supporting the vision, lead by Senator Mark Hillman and Representative Wes McKinley, became the template for over 30 state legislatures to follow. Colorado State University was the first land grant university in the nation to get behind us. The Delta-Montrose Rural Electric Association was the first rural electric in America to officially endorse the cause. Tracee Bentley, a former Farm Bureau lobbyist and now Legislative Director for Governor Hickenlooper, served as our western states coordinator for state alliance development.
In Washington, then-Congressman Mark Udall (the co-chair of the Amendment 37 campaign) and then-Senator Ken Salazar were the 'Captiol Hill Champions' for our cause, serving as prime co-sponsors for what embedded "25x'25" as a national goal into the 2007 Energy Act – and still, today, will be caught mentioning "25x'25" in presentations. During the Ritter era, Colorado became known as a global leader in the energy transition; today, Bill Ritter leads the Colorado State University-based Center for the New Energy Economy and was intricately involved in the development of the White House initiative, "Powering Forward: Presidential and Executive Agency Actions to Drive Clean Energy in America".
Those collective Colorado actions are a living example of the Butterfly Effect – a small change at one place (a 10% state energy standard) in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state – (transforming the worlds most powerful military).
In eight, short years Colorado has gone from a state controlled by the tight grip of a fossil-centric government – to a state just slightly less controlled by those same interests. We've advanced our original 10% renewable energy standard to a 30% standard (by 2020); we've done so with none of the apocalyptic effects predicted by the coal interests in 2004. Boulder has taken on the proverbial Goliath, Xcel, and is moving forward with municipalization. The Colorado legislature has imposed a reasonable 20% renewable electric standard on Colorado rural electrics. The LaPlata Rural Electric board in the last week has battled, and elected, a majority of renewable energy advocates to its board of directors. The Wray School District is powered 100% by wind energy and sells it's excess to the City of Wray, trapping their energy dollars locally and generating new income for the school.
There are small sparks of hope in nearly any corner of our great state.
Last Friday a Colorado court ruled the Local Control Initiative, Initiative 75, may go forward with signature gathering. The hysteria from business and industry sounds eerily familiar: an economy that will collapse; an economy that couldn't possibly survive without the tether of fossil-fuel nozzle to suckle upon. Rising costs. Like our efforts to lead in the nation in a the renewable energy transition, this initiative, too, will have national implications. Can and will Colorado citizens step up and put a measure of balance between an arguably-untethered industry and the vision of local communities for what their future should look like? Will the industry finally be taken to task on its unreasonably-low severance taxes? And eight years from now, will we reflect upon a movement, birthed in Colorado, that changed our nation's energy course? I believe we will; I think we have entered a time in history where Coloradans will demonstrate that no amount of money is a substitute for an engaged democracy. And like the detractors of that seemingly-benign group of Coloradans who stepped to the plate in 2004 – 2014 will be a great bookend to capstone our leadership on the national scene in the necessary evolution to a new energy future.