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Ritter urges tougher energy standards

DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter pitched his plan to increase renewable energy requirements for big power companies to Colorado lawmakers on Thursday, telling them it will create thousands of new jobs and reduce the cost of electricity.

Ritter said Colorado is the first state with a voter-approved Renewable Energy Standard of 10 percent that passed in 2004. Lawmakers doubled that to 20 percent by 2020, and it would increase another 10 percent under legislation that had its first hearing Thursday.

Qualified renewable energy projects include wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other projects approved by the Public Utilities Commission.

“By requiring utility companies to generate nearly one-third of their electricity from renewable sources, we will continue to improve our energy, environmental and economic security,” Ritter said.

Republicans immediately pounced on labor provisions requiring state regulators to consider employment and economic factors when evaluating new electric generation resources, including wages, health benefits and worker pensions, calling it “a hodgepodge for special interest groups,” including unions.

“We see this as an attempt to drive the labor force into union hands,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, a Republican from Highlands Ranch.

Mike Cerbo, executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, said there is no requirement that contractors use union labor, but he said the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has 4,000 members in Colorado, offers the best training to qualify for the new jobs.

Mary Broderick, spokeswoman for the IBEW, said union members earn about $30 an hour, compared with nonunion workers who get paid as little as $7 an hour, but the union’s focus is on worker safety.

“This is not about the unions,” she said following a news conference with Ritter at the state Capitol.

Ritter, a Democrat, told the House Transportation and Energy Committee during a hearing on the bill that the plan is not a payback for union support after McNulty referred to it as the “big labor payback provision.”

Ritter said people who want to work on the projects can get training at community colleges and vocational schools.

“Labor may benefit from it, but the value we get is consumer and public safety,” he said.


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