“He has a climate advisor, he has a climate action plan, and he has called on 20 or 30 utilities around the state to submit their own climate action plan,” von Hake said. “If I had known how much he would do for renewable energy his first month in office, not to mention his first term, I would have worked a lot harder on his campaign.”
That commitment to renewable energy at the state level might be in jeopardy, though.
Ritter in January that he will not seek reelection this fall. The race for the next governor will be between the Democratic mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper, and former Republican Congressman Scott McInnis; show McInnis slightly in the lead.
Hickenlooper has indicated he would continue the renewable energy trends begun by Ritter, but even McInnis, who has focused more on fossil fuel energy, wouldn’t be able to halt the state’s momentum, according to von Hake.
“I get a feeling that the renewable energy industry in Colorado is getting enough of its own legs that it won’t necessarily die if there is a Governor McInnis,” he said.
The influence of strong governors when it comes to clean energy and addressing climate change became clear in Utah last year, when President Obama appointed then-Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., to be ambassador to China.
, a Republican, had pushed the state toward more renewable energy and had created a panel to determine the best ways to address climate change. In contrast, Lt. Gov. Gary , who succeeded him, outwardly questions the science of climate change while acknowledging that he doesn’t understand it. Herbert faces a gubernatorial election in November.
“I think that Governor Herbert would benefit from a greater education on efficiency and renewables, and we hope to be able to do that if remains in office,” said Sarah Wright, executive director of the non-profit . She added that Herbert’s main challenger for the governor’s chair comes from Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, and that he “has a deep understanding of the benefits of efficiency and renewables to Utah.”
However, Utah is heavily conservative and Republican. Colorado’s voters, in contrast, have shifted to the middle and its legislature leans Democratic.
Elsewhere in the region, governors also seem to be playing a role in states’ progress toward renewable energy adoption. Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was tapped by President Obama to be the Secretary of Homeland Security, and her replacement, Republican Jan Brewer, has presided over a mixed bag of renewable energy activity. The state has adopted a , but recent attempts to include nuclear power in the standard to effectively dilute it’s power — though they appear to have — stained the state’s green reputation.
Arizona also recently diminished its status in the from “partner” to “observer,” a move Utah’s legislature is, perhaps unsurprisingly given its position on climate change, . Several states and Canadian provinces formed the Western Climate Initiative to combat climate change in the face of slow-acting federal governments.
At least Arizona is on the , though. Wyoming, which just approved a on wind power, doesn’t even have a renewable portfolio standard.
Progress around the country has differed drastically in the renewable energy realm, based on everything from demographics to legislative priorities to energy resource bases. California has led the nation for years in addressing environmental and climate concerns, and Washington state and Oregon are often at the forefront, as well.
In the Mountain West, though, where many states share characteristics that might align their energy policies, clearly a number of factors can change outcomes. Wright, of Utah Clean Energy, thinks that with better education of policymakers, some of the wrongs can be righted.
“I think why we are not moving rapidly in this state has to do with the fact that many policy makers are afraid that change will hurt us negatively,” she said. “They don’t really realize the economic development benefits of renewable energy, energy efficiency and low carbon technologies.”