Advocates say that massive amounts of renewable energy are feasible and will save money in the long run. But how do we know that’s true?

Because that’s exactly what’s happening. 

Let’s take Colorado. The state has a 30 percent renewable energy requirement. How are things going? Xcel, the largest utility in the state, says it will meet that requirement in 2012 … that’s eight years earlier than required.

OK, some may say, but isn’t such a massive investment going to be painfully expensive?

Actually, according to Xcel, investing in renewables is going to save money in the long run. They are required to calculate the counterfactual — what would their costs be if they didn’t buy renewables? According to Xcel’s own calculations, if the state’s renewable energy standard didn’t exist, their ratepayers would pay an additional $409 million by 2021. That bears repeating. According to the utility’s calculations, going renewable will save Colorado ratepayers $409 million. And that’s assuming no new legislation that would require fossil fuels to compensate for carbon emissions. If such a law were passed, then the state’s renewable standard would be expected to save ratepayers $1.1 billion by 2021.

Check it out for yourself. You’ll find the calculations in Tables 7-3 and 7-4 in Volume 2 of Xcel’s RES compliance plan (available in the CO RES docket 11A-418E, link here ). According to Volume 1 of the RES plan, Xcel assumes carbon costs of $20/ton, escalating at 7 percent annually, as approved in the 2007 Colorado Resource Plan, which introduced possible carbon emission regulation in CO. Xcel is using the numbers from the 2007 CO Plan but on a delayed implementation schedule with carbon costs starting in 2014. (Vol. 1, p. 68). (Hat tip to Erica Schroeder of Keyes & Fox lawfirm for digging up these figures.)

Colorado started on it’s renewable venture in 2004, when voters passed Amendment 37, a ballot initiative to establish a 10 percent renewable standard in the state. The state legislature upped the requirement to 20 percent in 2007, and 30 percent in 2010.  And no wonder why — compliance eight years early, and massive ratepayer savings.

So if anyone asks you if renewable energy can scale, or wonders if it costs too much, share Colorado’s experience. Those questions are answered by facts on the ground.