Bill would save imperiled clean-energy office

Natural gas, oil would be added to the mission

DENVER – Senators appeared to reach a breakthrough Tuesday about whether the state’s office for clean energy should also promote natural gas and oil.

The Governor’s Energy Office grew rapidly under former Gov. Bill Ritter, thanks to his support for renewable power and $80 million in funding from the federal stimulus bill.

But now the stimulus funding has almost run out, and a new governor, John Hickenlooper, is cultivating closer ties to the natural-gas and oil industry.

The compromise bill allows the office to promote natural gas and oil, but retains its mission of promoting energy efficiency. The GOP-led House had stripped it out.

Hickenlooper’s plan to rebuild the office as an agency that promotes all forms of energy ran into resistance from environmental groups and their Democratic allies in the Senate.

The office can’t keep operating unless the Legislature passes House Bill 1315, which provides funding and sets new priorities for the staff members.

“This bill is needed to keep this office performing the work that it does in advancing Colorado’s energy industry,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.

But other Senate Democrats did not like the version that passed the House in April. Steadman made changes Tuesday that helped the bill pass the Senate State Affairs Committee on a 5-0 vote.

“I’m infinitely more comfortable with the bill as you’ve amended it,” Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, told Steadman.

Steadman also redesigned two funds – one for clean and renewable energy, and one for traditional sources such as natural gas and coal.

Environmentalists have been staunch defenders of the clean-energy fund, and they are happier with the latest changes.

“Our frame of reference is the Governor’s Energy Office has helped hang out that sign that we’re open for business in clean energy here in Colorado,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters.

The bill still has to pass two more Senate committees and the full Senate.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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