DENVER– State Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) advanced a resolution extolling the benefits of renewable energy to Colorado’s economy – but it sparked heated opposition from Senate Republicans who criticized the measure’s language and disputed many of its assertions.
“We just want to acknowledge the importance of renewable energy and what that has done for Colorado’s economy, research and development,” Schwartz told the Senate on Monday.
“With good public policy we can create businesses, bring down costs and create competitive resources for energy,” Schwartz added.
Republican senators were quick to point out that renewable energy has a very narrow definition in Colorado, has been heavily subsidized by taxpayers and utility ratepayers, and has a rough-and-tumble record of job layoffs and company failures.
“I think it’s appropriate that we are hearing it today – on April Fool’s Day – because so much of this resolution I kind of question,” said state Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch).
Harvey challenged the statement that “nearly 5,000 Coloradans are employed by the wind energy and its supply chain.”
“Five thousand? After the millions and millions and millions of dollars we’ve subsidized into this industry, 5,000 jobs?” asked Harvey of the more than $250 million that streamed through former Gov. Bill Ritter’s Energy Office and remains unaccounted for.
Citing articles in the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News in 2008, Harvey recalled that Ritter went around the country boasting of having created “90,000 jobs in the renewable energy industry.”
“So what happened?” quizzed Harvey. “We subsidize wind (energy) $5 million a year – and we’re only getting 5,000 jobs.”
Harvey said the resolution statement that Colorado was the first state with a 10 percent renewable energy standard is true, but Ritter and Democrat legislators increased that standard without voter approval.
“This body, in its infinite wisdom, told the taxpayers and the ratepayers that in 2007, they were going increase (the standard) to 20 percent for an industry that is not creating any jobs,” declared Harvey. “In 2010, we increased it to 30 percent.”
Schwartz, in fact, sponsored the bills to boost the percentage of the state’s renewable energy to 20 and 30 percent, and supported measures to narrowly define renewable energy sources eligible for government subsidies and to curb utilities use of coal – putting 1,000 coal mining jobs at risk.
“It is our opportunity to lead the nation, if not the world, when it comes to renewable technologies,” she remarked during a green energy conference in 2011. “What we have to do is maintain our edge.”
“Colorado is open for business and we’re here to develop our resources and we’re inviting businesses to come in,” declared Schwartz, who defined renewable energy as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro.
State Sen. Kevin Grantham (R-CanonCity) opposed the resolution “celebrating very specific, narrow definitions of what renewable energy is.”
Based on those definitions, Democrat legislators have killed bills to utilize renewable energy technology that would capture methane gas from coal mines or utilize gases from waste in landfills.
Democrats rejected those technologies and the jobs created by private enterprise, said Grantham. Those shovel-ready jobs, he said, would have benefited Colorado, particularly rural communities that have not recovered from the economic recession and high unemployment.
Ironically, Schwartz was a co-sponsor of the bill to capture methane gas from coal mines and recycle it to produce cheaper, cleaner energy in 2012. The measure had been endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
That bill was derailed by then-Majority Leader and now Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs), who with Schwartz is sponsoring the resolution to celebrate green energy’s economic benefits toColorado.
“We need to see cost effective, market driven solutions,” said state Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud). Government “shouldn’t be driving industries by mandates and subsidies.”
Lundberg recalled the solar panel trend in the 1970s when state and federal governments offered up to 90 percent tax rebates to purchasers. The industry failed to develop the technology in its haste to sell solar power systems.
“They sold junk!” declared Lundberg. “When the subsidies went away, the industry disappeared.”
Grantham also opposed the resolution statement, “Renewable energy generation produces no carbon dioxide or air pollution, keeping Colorado’s skies clear, now.”
“There is in fact quite a carbon footprint,” said Grantham.
Not only have wind turbines disturbed wildlife and killed thousands of birds, he said, but the turbines require magnets that are produced in China by extracting minerals. That poses an environmental hazard, but the magnets are more cheaply manufactured by China which has minimal if any protective regulations.
“Apparently it’s okay for us to use these elements for a worthy cause over here as long as it is negatively affecting the people and the environment over there in China,” said Grantham.
The resolution passed the Senate on a party line vote, and now moves to the House for consideration.