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Uncertain Future for Governor's Energy Office

The Governor’s Energy Office faces an uncertain future after the loss of its main source of funding during the recent legislative session. KUNC’s Erin O’Toole talks with Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood about the agency and its future.

O’Toole: Let’s start by talking first about the Governor’s Energy Office itself. What does the agency do, and why is it important?

Wood: What’s now the Governor’s Energy Office was formed back in 1977 as the Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation. Its mission is to promote energy conservation in the state. The agency took its current name and achieved a much higher profile under former Governor Bill Ritter, who was promoting what he called the “New Energy Economy.”

Its mission has also broadened. The GEO website states that its primary goal is to create jobs, spur innovation, preserve the natural environment and ensure low-cost, safe and reliable energy in the state.

The office provides a wide variety of programs to encourage energy conservation and development of clean technologies, including solar incentives, creation of the Colorado Carbon Fund and other measures.

O’Toole: This past legislative session saw an end to a major source of funding for the GEO.  How big an impact will that have?

Wood:  It’s a major issue, Erin. Governor Hickenlooper allowed a measure to become law without his signature, removing state gaming proceeds as a funding source for the GEO. That funding amounted to $4 million in 2009 and $7 million in 2008. The governor at the time asked that the Legislature find another source of funding for the agency, but no alternative funding was approved before the legislative session ended.

Right now, the GEO is surviving thanks to the last year of a three-year, $130 million federal grant, but those funds are slated to dry up a year from now. If the state funds are not replaced, the GEO might have to shut down, although state officials have expressed hope that a funding source will be found.

At risk are a wide variety of programs that provide incentives for residential or commercial energy-conservation measures. One example is a rebate program that has awarded $10 million in rebates over the past 11 months. Supporters say that the $10 million investment resulted in a multiplier effect of $90 million in new materials purchased and new contractor work.

O’Toole:  What happens if a new funding source is found? Will the GEO continue with its current mission?

Wood:  That’s a very good question, Erin. One legislator proposed downsizing the office, renaming it the Colorado Energy Office and shifting its focus to both traditional and renewable energy in Colorado — a change that caused concern among renewable-energy advocates. That bill died in committee, but it’s unclear at this point what might be proposed when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

O’Toole:  Chris, the renewable-energy sector has had a lot of momentum in recent years. So what do issues surrounding the GEO say about that momentum?

Wood:  Well, there are certainly some drags on that momentum. Colorado has created a lot of jobs in the clean-tech sector, and has made great strides in shifting toward renewables, but issues such as this, along with the end of the Xcel Energy solar rebate program, which we’ve discussed previously, have some in the renewable-energy sector wondering whether more opportunities — and more momentum, might be outside the state.

Chris Wood is the publisher of the Boulder County Business Report.

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood helped create the Northern Colorado Business Report in 1995. He previously served as managing editor of the Denver Business Journal. Chris discusses regional business and economic issues in Boulder County every other Thursday at 5:35 and 7:35 during Morning Edition.
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