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Low-cost renewable energy is key

Expert says rising prices of natural gas, fuels isn't enough

By Jeff Smith
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

Increased use of renewable energy is likely to depend more on prices coming down rather than a crisis in natural gas costs and other conventional fuels, an expert said Wednesday.

"Most important is to drive down the costs of renewable energy," said Morey Wolfson, a project leader at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. "It may be too risky to depend on the unraveling of the conventional (energy) industry."

Wolfson, who spent 14 years as a staff member at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, was one of the featured speakers Wednesday on the first day of a two-day conference on renewable energy at the Adam's Mark hotel in Denver. The conference, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and organized by the Strategic Research Institute in Aurora, included a market outlook and a discussion of strategies that can be used to increase the use of renewable energy such as wind power, biomass, fuel cells and solar-energy collectors.

Wolfson called natural gas a "keystone issue" for the renewable-energy industry. He said he believes natural gas prices will continue to rise and that "will spur ... interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy."

The price of natural gas on the spot market is about double that of last year. But some analysts believe prices will begin to stabilize, partly because of increased production in the Rocky Mountain region.

Wolfson cautioned against listening to those who are banking on natural gas prices and other conventional fuels to go awry so renewable energy can save the day.

Ultimately, he said, price will be the determining factor. "What if these good things are too expensive?" he asked.

Use of renewable energy has increased dramatically in recent years, but it is unclear whether that has been due to declining costs of wind power or a positive consequence of the restructuring of the utility industry, Wolfson said. He noted examples of states such as Wisconsin that have said no to restructuring, but have heavily promoted the development of renewable energy.

Wolfson noted that energy efficiency or conservation is a "slam dunk" that needs to occupy more people's minds in these days of rising natural gas costs.

Contact Jeff Smith at (303) 892-5155, or smithje@RockyMountainNews.com.

November 30, 2000