Talking the New Energy Economy at SXSW Eco

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Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images Sport

I’m in Austin, Texas this week, attending the first-ever SXSW Eco conference—a green offshoot of the annual SXSW interactive, film and music festival held in the spring. You can follow along with the live stream here. It runs through Thursday—personally, I recommend Philippe Cousteau Jr.’s presentation at 2 PM Central on Thursday.

I’ve already had my say here, interviewing former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on stage about clean energy policies and politics. Ritter is an interesting figure—he came to office in the Western state in 2006 focusing on what he likes to call the “new energy economy.” He had success at the statehouse, increasing Colorado’s renewable energy standard to 30%—one of the highest in the nation—and signed dozens of clean energy laws. He also had to deal with one of the most challenging energy issues of our time—natural gas fracking—and managed to nudge the gas industry towards greater transparency, however slowly.

Ritter declined to run for re-election in 2010, and he’s now the first director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. I hope to be able to post video of our conversation soon, but what really struck me were the political changes that Ritter experienced over the course of his one term. Don’t forget—back in 2008, climate action and clean energy was considered a pretty bipartisan issue. Ritter was one of a group of centrist Democratic governors in “purple” Western states—people like Brian Schweitzer of Montana—who saw clean energy as a way to unite Republicans and Democrats. In a post-Solyndra, 2011-era—not so much.

As long as that polarization exists, we can pretty much forget about meaningful action at the federal level. Instead we may have to depend on state action—like that in Colorado, where the new Governor John Hickenlooper has continued much of Ritter’s clean energy work—and even cities like Austin. More to come from the SXSW Eco conference soon.