Report: Renewable energy could mean billions of dollars in West

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DENVER -- Relying more on renewable energy could translate into billions of dollars in investments, income and utility savings for six Western states, according to a report released Friday.

Increasing the use of renewable energy to 20 percent nationwide would create nearly $12 billion in new investments across Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, according to the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

About 8 percent of the nation's energy came from renewable sources in 1999, according to the Department of Energy. Less than 1 percent of the energy in the six-state region comes from renewable sources, the scientists' union report said.

If the nationwide share of renewable energy increased to 20 percent, farmers, ranchers and other landowners in the six-state region would reap $170 million in lease payments for wind turbines, the study said.

Carbon dioxide emissions from the region's electrical generating plants would fall by more than 40 percent, said the study, "Renewing Where We Live."

A related study said Colorado could see $2.4 billion in new investments and gain 17,700 jobs by 2020 under the higher standard.

A Democrat-sponsored bill in the U.S. Senate proposes increasing the use of wind, solar and other renewable energies to 10 percent by 2020.

"That's good, but we'd like to see it go to 20 percent," said Rick Gilliam of the Boulder-based Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, which helped produce the Colorado study.

Colorado has enough wind capacity to meet its energy needs 10 times over, which means the state could become an energy exporter, Gilliam said.

Some 17,000 business and residential customers in Colorado voluntarily pay a premium for electricity to help expand Xcel Energy's wind-turbine farms. Last year, Colorado regulators ordered Xcel to include another proposed wind farm in its long-range plans.

Other Western states, though, require that more energy come from renewable sources than Colorado does. In Nevada, the goal is to get 5 percent of the state's energy from renewable sources by 2003 and 15 percent by 2013, Gilliam said.

Despite a boom in natural gas exploration and drilling, polls show support is still strong for alternative power sources, said Robin Hubbard of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, which co-sponsored the Colorado study.

"The public is still concerned about their health and the environment," he said. "Those are constants."


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