SAN LUIS VALLEY ― Highlighting the value of rural communities, Gov. Bill Ritter today visited the San Luis Valley and signed legislation that invests in rural Colorado through the New Energy Economy, sustainable economic development, education and broadband technology.
"These bills celebrate the people and the spirit of the San Luis Valley," Gov. Ritter said during a signing ceremony at the SunEdison solar plant outside of Alamosa. "They also will allow us to do a better job of fulfilling the potential that exists here.
"For example, this solar plant demonstrates the potential offered by Colorado's New Energy Economy," Gov. Ritter said. "We're making Colorado a national – an international – leader in renewable energy, and the New Energy Economy is boosting rural economies all across Colorado, including here in the San Luis Valley.
"As we grow the New Energy Economy, we also must support and improve the standard of living in Colorado's rural communities. We must create hope and opportunity wherever, whenever and however we can. These bills go a long way toward accomplishing that goal."
House Bill 1164 (Solano/Schwartz) directs the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to favor large-scale solar power proposals. Colorado has one of the five largest potential solar markets in the nation, and utility scale solar plants offer several advantages: they can store energy for up to six hours, they can dispatch electricity when needed, allowing utilities to better match electricity demand; and they can be built in just one to two years. The bill also enables the PUC to evaluate the possibility of of higher costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions in the future.
"Colorado has 300 days of sunshine annually and is one of the sunniest states in the country," Rep. Judy Solano said. "If Colorado developed just 2 percent of its solar resources, it could meet half its energy demand. By investing in large-scale solar -- particularly in economically hard-hit areas like the San Luis Valley -- we're making good on our commitment to work toward genuine energy independence and to reduce the impacts of global warming."
HB 1083 (Curry/Penry) sets new criteria to ensure a fair and direct distribution of severance tax dollars to communities most impacted by oil and gas drilling. It improves transparency and accountability for the state's local mineral impact assistance grant program.
"This bill will greatly improve how we distribute revenue to areas impacted most by oil and gas," said Rep. Kathleen Curry.
Senate Bill 13 (Schwartz/Fischer) will invest additional dollars to energy-impacted communities to support and develop outdoor recreation and wildlife-related economies. These non-energy economies will allow communitis to sustain themselves beyond the current energy boom.
SB 228 (Schwartz/Curry) is a right-to-know bill that provides the public with access to information about mining and when companies file notices of intent for hard-rock prospecting.
This will improve transparency and still protect companies' proprietary mining information. The legislation grew out of concerns voiced by the community of Crested Butte. Industry, residents and the environmental community came together and agreed on the legislation.
SB 215 (Schwartz/Riesberg) calls on the state's Chief Informaiton Officer to create a statewide map of current broadband resources throughout Colorado by April 2009.
"This bill is a huge step into the 21st century for Colorado," Sen. Gail Schwartz said. "Many parts of rural Colorado have fallen behind Front Range areas in terms of access to broadband communications. Broadband communication is crucial for economic development, and extending this technology will dramatically improve health care and educational services and strengthen local businesses in rural Colorado."
"The U.S. ranks 16th in the world in broadband penetration," Rep. Jim Riesberg said. "We want to fix that and get all Coloradans the broadband Internet access they need. It's a simple two-step process: find out where access is not available, and find investors to step in and meet the demand. SB 215 will create a broadband inventory map, a crucial component to expanding service."
SB 38 (Schwartz/Massey) creates 12 regional service areas, and encourages each area to assemble a local council to develop local forms of P-20 (pre-school through grad school) education. Aligning educational systems this way will improve student learning, lower high school dropout rates and close achievement gaps. The San Luis Valley is home to Colorado's first Board of Cooperative Education Services, or "BOCES," created more than 40 years ago.
"We have to ensure that the education we are providing our kids is the best it can be, and one of the ways we get there is by improving school programs," Sen. Schwartz said. "By collaborating regionally, we can streamline our operations, improve student performance, and close the achievement gap."