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The 4 E’s of a New Energy Economy

When I was running for Governor of Colorado in 2006, I made an audacious claim: Colorado could become a leader in clean-energy research, production, and innovation. Today, just five years later, in many respects that goal has come true. We are the American manufacturing home to the world’s largest wind turbine company, Vestas Wind Systems. We are home to some of the world’s leading renewable energy companies, smart grid companies and our primary utility, Xcel Energy, is the country’s leader in wind energy. Our universities have formed a collaborative research partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and we have a center devoted to commercialization of renewable energy technologies. We are home to over 400 solar companies and together with Arizona, have the lowest installed cost of solar in the country. We also lead the nation with a 30 percent renewable portfolio standard, one of the most aggressive in the country – and our utility will meet that goal ahead of schedule.As Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, I have an opportunity to speak with governors and energy officials from all over the country.  From my work there, I know that each state has the opportunity to achieve their own New Energy Economy – the ability to deploy clean-energy technologies to bring about an essential shift in our country. If we do so, we can advance what I call the “Four Es”: Energy Security, Economic Security, Environmental Security, and Equity.Energy SecurityIt is my firm belief that energy efficiency as well as clean, domestic, secure, and renewable energy sources can reduce our heavy dependence on foreign oil, and on aging, high-emitting coal plants – and perhaps one day eliminate them entirely. The United States Energy Security Council likens the opportunity for geopolitical impacts of alternative fuels for transportation to the technological innovations that brought about refrigeration. By eliminating our dependence on salt for the preservation of food, we removed one of the most destabilizing forces in the early 20th Century. Hybrid technology, electrification, natural gas vehicles, and third generation bio-fuels offer an opportunity to radically shift the geopolitical influence oil holds on our society.Today, our troops in the field risk their lives to transport diesel fuel to power remote generators in dangerous parts of the world. We owe them an alternative that will eliminate that risk. Clean-energy technologies have the power to do just that.Economic SecurityAs we found in Colorado, advancing a new energy economy creates jobs and economic prosperity. There is not a governor in the country today that isn’t interested in that. In Colorado, we first created market certainty with a renewable portfolio standard, then we put policies in place that would reduce barriers to the expansion of new technologies throughout the state. We established incentives – not as robust as those enjoyed by traditional fuels, but substantial nonetheless. We developed a green certificate through our community colleges to provide the workforce that an emerging industry requires. And we created a pathway for commercialization of new technologies.  As a result, during the Great Recession we actually saw growth in one industry: the clean-tech/clean-energy industry. There is perhaps no industry in the world that faces a more significant opportunity to modernize and change than the energy industry.  That opportunity extends from the generation sources, to the transmission, to the end consumption, to the management of energy all along the value chain. America should be at the forefront of that effort. Environmental SecurityThere is perhaps no greater challenge facing the next generation than reducing harmful emissions associated with energy generation and consumption.  We continue to see the staggering impacts of climate change throughout the globe.We have an obligation to future generations to get our planetary house in order by decreasing emissions of harmful pollutants into our atmosphere and water. Fortunately, we have abundant opportunities to address these challenges within the energy sector.Inaction at the federal level means states need to lead. We are already seeing that in many states around the country: Massachusetts, California, Colorado, and New Jersey, have model policies that lower their states’ emission portfolios over the next decade. Now, the Congress should do the same. This country is ready for a national energy policy that provides lower emissions by providing market certainty to the clean-energy industries.EquityFinally, we need to ensure that our move to clean energy is not achieved on the backs of our poorest citizens. When I took office in 2007, Colorado’s electric rates were 19% below the national average. In 2011, following years of pursuing an aggressive clean-energy agenda, our rates were 22% below the national average. Simultaneously, we weatherized the homes of more than 20,000 low income families – permanently reducing their bills by up to 40 percent.Naysayers like to say that we can’t afford clean energy. I would argue we can’t afford not to pursue a new energy agenda. It is up to our generation to recognize and address the challenges of the 21st century with 21st century technologies and provide the world with the innovations that will lead us to a clean-energy future.------------Bill Ritter, Jr. is the former Governor of Colorado and now Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University. He’ll be a keynote presenter at the upcoming Clean-Tech Investor Summit, Feb 1-2, 2012 in Palm Springs.