Rocky Mountain Chapter leaders wanted to make Colorao a leader in renewable energy. All it took was four years, a strategic plan, a compelling vision, and dedicated volunteers.
by Tom Valtin
In November 2004, Colorado voters passed an initiative requiring the state’s largest utilities to obtain 3 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2007 and 10 percent by 2015—a major victory for the Rocky Mountain Chapter’s Clean Energy Campaign.
“This is the first time a citizen’s initiative has been adopted for renewable portfolio standards anywhere in the world,” beams chapter vice chair Greg Casini, also a national board member.
Five years ago, the Rocky Mountain Chapter didn’t have an energy campaign, or an energy committee. But in January 2001, Casini convened a planning session to set chapter priorities, and Colorado leaders fixed on energy as a top concern.
“We put together a vision of where we wanted to go,” Casini says, “how to get there, and how to get people involved.” The vision: that Colorado get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and achieve 20 percent greater energy efficiency by 2020.
The next step was to identify committee members through interest surveys in the chapter newsletter and by combing through lists of members who had taken action on issues like global warming, energy, and pollution. (“That’s why we record that information,” Casini says.) They also got a list of locals who’d attended a renewable energy conference in Boulder.
Casini set up two organizing meetings for potential committee members and presented the vision, described specific tasks for the next six months, and asked for volunteers. “Hands immediately shot up,” he says.
Initially 30 people got involved in three committees that met weekly: a Web team (www.rmc.sierraclub.org/energy), an information and materials team, and a local ordinance committee to influence the Denver City Council to upgrade local building codes and ordinances. A staff organizer, John Rosapepe, was also brought on to help the local ordinance committee. Gradually, the info and materials team morphed into the present-day energy committee, which absorbed members of the other teams.
The key to success, Casini says, is that meetings were strategically focused on how to achieve the vision. “People want a sense that things are getting done.”
The campaign’s first big victory came in 2002, when Denver adopted a set of greener, more stringent building codes. “We developed relationships with people in city government, and that work paid off,” says Casini. The campaign then set its sights on statewide renewable portfolio standards. In 2003 they held a 3-day retreat in the mountains with a lobbyist. “We divided our time evenly between planning, discussion, and fun.” They also organized field trips to a renewable energy lab and a local wind farm.
The big push came in 2004. “We’d gone to the legislature twice asking for renewable portfolio standards, without success,” Casini says. “This time we took the issue directly to the voters.” The state’s electrical utilities vigorously opposed the initiative, but after months of committee work tabling, and phonebanking, the voters stepped to the plate on Election Day.
photo by Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover
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