THE GREEN AISLE

THE GREEN AISLE

BILL RITTER AND THE CENTER FOR THE NEW ENERGY ECONOMY CROSS PARTY LINES TO PLAN FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY

by Mary Guiden

BILL RITTER’S APPROACH TO HIS CURRENT JOB, director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, is pretty simple:

“For me, the New Energy Economy has always been about our future, our kids’ future, our grandkids’ future. I think in order to survive in this created space we inhabit, we need to produce and consume energy differently. If we don’t, then our legacy for our children will be a Colorado inferior to the Colorado that we live in.”

Ritter said he first started thinking about tackling this type of work when he was a candidate for governor. He was elected Colorado’s 41st governor in 2006, and built consensus to tackle some of the state’s biggest challenges.

At the time, he pondered the role or the responsibility of people in public office. “It’s to be a leader, and to put a narrative out there that really tries to state what we should be about as a generation,” Ritter said.

“I came to look at climate change as maybe the most important issue that our generation needs to deal with, so that the generation after us isn’t impacted in a significant and negative way.”

This role, he said, is also about stewardship. Ritter was raised on a farm and also raised Catholic. “I approach a lot of things from a stewardship perspective,” he said.

IN THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

The Center was founded by Ritter in 2011, and is supported by private funding. Thanks to his connections, he helped CNEE — and CSU — gain national prominence right from the start.

He was part of a small group of energy thought leaders invited to the White House in March 2013 to discuss how President Barack Obama could pursue a clean energy agenda using his lawful authority.

Following the confab, Ritter and his team were invited to take a deeper examination of the President’s options in five discrete areas:

  1. ENERGY EFFICIENCY
  2. RENEWABLE ENERGY
  3. ALTERNATIVE FUELS FOR VEHICLES
  4. NATURAL GAS RULE-MAKING AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL
  5. WHAT ALTERNATIVE BUSINESS FUNDS SHOULD LOOK LIKE IN THE 21ST CENTURY

POWERING FORWARD

CNEE launched an eight-month initiative to gather ideas for additional presidential action on climate and clean energy. In dialogues, roundtables, and peer reviews, the Center engaged more than 100 participants including CEOs, CFOs, and other top executives from industry, academia, research institutions, NGOs, and state and local governments.

“The White House asked for everything and the kitchen sink,” Ritter said. “They said, ‘Give us all the recommendations.’”

The result, known as the Powering For- ward Plan, had 200 recommendations. Ritter cites this plan as one of the Center’s biggest triumphs to date. “It was bipartisan; we convened people from both sides of the aisle,” he said. “We got to common ground on what we could and should do as a country to advance a clean energy agenda, particularly at the federal level. That was a serious accomplishment.”

EMPOWERING, EDUCATING POLICYMAKERS

CNEE has also been productive working with states, which are often referred to as the nation’s policy laboratories. “We impacted legislation in a pretty serious variety of states,” he said.

The list includes solar legislation passed in Minnesota, energy efficiency legislation passed in a number of states, and natural gas rule-making in the process of being implemented in Ohio.

Ritter has also worked with policymakers in Texas, and he traveled with a group of CSU scientists to California to talk about the science around natural gas and fracking.

What Ritter is most excited about these days is work related to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. “This project may some day be viewed as the most important one we’ve tackled,” he said.

The EPA’s plan intends to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. If it is implemented, by 2030, the plan will reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels. That’s equal to the annual emissions from 166 million cars, or 70 percent, of the country’s passenger vehicles — all from power plants.

It is, needless to say, controversial. The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Dec. 1 to repeal the plan. More than 20 states, including Colorado, are suing the EPA to invalidate the plan. At the same time, the state’s governor, John Hickenlooper, supports the EPA initiative.

CONSTRUCTIVE PARTICIPATION

CNEE led a workshop about the plan in September 2015 for air regulators and energy leads from governors’ offices among the Western states. “We’ve had constructive participation from 100 percent of these states,” said Ritter. Twenty-four utilities are part of the group involved in discussions about implementation.

“To the extent it survives the litigation, there’s every hope that the West can find a path forward for implementation of the rule,” he said. It’s a credit to the Center, and to Ritter’s ability to reach across the political aisle, that disparate groups have come together to discuss the Clean Power Plan.
“For us, in a time in America where things are so heavily politicized, to be able to manage this process, and engage people in a bipartisan way about what energy generation might look like in the West, it is a refreshing thing to be a part of.”

The Center has also led the way to seek common ground on controversial issues by sponsoring an annual Natural Gas Symposium. “We said we’re going to bring all the parties together and have a simple conversation that is going to be about solutions,” Ritter said.

“It’s been a great experience to work with other academicians who care about solving problems as well,” he said. “It’s not just about Colorado, it’s about finding solutions where energy, environmental issues, and climate change all intersect. It’s burnished the reputation of the Center for it to be housed at Colorado State University.”

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