Bill Would Add Fossil Fuels to Energy Office

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The Governor's Energy Office could see a major shift in its focus, its staffing, and even its name, under legislation moving through the General Assembly. The bill passed its first hearing Monday, despite heated opposition from the renewable energy industry.

If the bill passes, it would rechristen the Governor's Energy Office the Colorado Energy Office and broaden its mandate to include promoting fossil fuels, like oil and natural gas.

Republican Representative Jon Becker says the change will help Colorado develop all sectors of its energy economy.

BECKER: "We need to have all these forms of energy at the table. And that's exactly what we're doing. We're inviting everybody to the table, using the groundwork we've already laid, not reducing our focus on renewable energies, and telling them, now is time that we form this partnership to start moving us forward."

Environmental groups and renewable energy companies don't see things that way; more than a dozen testified against the bill. They warn the change would dilute the office's focus. Jim Burness with the solar company, SolSource, told the committee that it would hurt Colorado's ability to recruit new investment in renewable technology.

BURNESS: "It essentially says that we're no longer serious about the clean energy economy and they really ought to look elsewhere, like California, Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts..."

Most of the panel's Democrats opposed the bill. Representative Randy Fischer pointed out that Colorado already gets the vast majority of its energy from traditional sources.

FISCHER: "Why do we need more effort to promote fossil fuels when we're way out of balance with fossil fuels and renewable, clean energy sources."

The Governor's Energy Office is facing rocky times ahead no matter what happens with this bill. The office gets most of its funding from federal stimulus money and that's expected to run out next year. Becker's bill would cut a quarter of the office's staff and combine many of its operations with the office of economic development.

Becker also makes the pitch that getting the office involved in more forms of energy could help its long-term survival.

BECKER: "If we open this up and bring everybody to the table, we may be able to find funding in other places we haven't looked before."

Becker says the GEO supports his bill, although no one from the office testified for it yesterday. One Democrat joined all the panel's Republicans in voting for the legislation. It still has to pass the House floor and the Senate.