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Wind: It's win-win

(Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- The following is a Denver Post editorial published earlier this month.

Friday, February 07, 2003 - Even in a drought, there's wind. And even when the breeze whispers at just 7 mph, it can generate electricity. Capturing the wind's power would help the environment by reducing use of fossil fuels, aid consumers by lessening the pain of natural-gas price hikes, and give farmers cash flow even when crops fail.

A just-introduced measure in the Colorado legislature promises all those benefits. HB 1295 would set a goal for Colorado to generate 900 megawatts annually from renewable energy by the end of this decade. Wind would be the main source, but the bill encourages solar and biomass electric generation, too. The measure contains carrots, not sticks, by offering major investor-owned utilities incentives to use renewable energy.

HB 1295 has garnered remarkable, early bipartisan and top-level support. Its primary sponsor is Speaker of the House Lola Spradley, a Republican from Beulah. Her co-sponsor is Minority Leader Jennifer Veiga, a Denver Democrat.

In the Senate, the bill is championed by a similar bipartisan team: Ken Kester, a Las Animas Republican, and Terry Phillips, a Boulder County Democrat.

The plan's myriad benefits produced a bumper crop of backers. Environmental groups such as the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies see it as an important step toward reducing air pollution and other problems associated with fossil fuels.

The affected utilities, including Xcel, support HB 1295 - but not only because it's good community relations. The price of the wind doesn't change from month to month, so HB 1295 could counterbalance natural-gas price hikes.

Intriguingly, HB 1295's staunchest supporters hail from rural Colorado, where struggling agricultural communities see wind farms as a potential source of jobs and tax revenue.

On Colorado's Eastern Plains, where the wind is almost always blowing, many farmers would welcome the extra income from leasing part of their land to wind farms. The Independent Bankers of Colorado says HB 1295 could be an inventive economic-development program for the financially struggling Eastern Plains communities.

In addition, since wind farms are taxed as industrial facilities, they add an important element to the underfunded rural tax base. For example, the existing Lamar wind farm boosted Prowers County's tax revenue by an impressive 29 percent.

Spradley exempted rural electric associations from the bill, yet REAs have mounted the only significant opposition to HB 1295. The REAs, which came into being through one of the biggest government programs of the 20th century, now say they "philosophically oppose" this 21st-century effort to similarly boost rural economies and enhance the public interest. Their stance is hypocritical, short-sighted and selfish.

HB 1295 offers benefits that are both widespread and long-term. The state legislature should heartily approve it.