Colorado Senate approved new renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and by 2020 30% of electricity in Colorado will come from alternative energy sources.

On March 2, as we reported earlier, the bill (HB 1001) was still in the legislature, with environmentalists appealing to the greener natures of lawmakers via a new report, Investing in the Sun, which showed that adding an extra 1,000 megawatts of distributed solar would supply enough “green” energy to power 146,000 homes, create more than 33,500 jobs, and raise more than $4 billion in direct and indirect revenue.

The report, released by The Vote Solar Initiative in cooperation with Environment Colorado and showing that solar energy would also save precious Colorado water supplies, must have done the trick.

Some are expressing surprise, given the fact that Colorado’s RPS – second only to California in terms of its ambitious approach to renewable energy technologies like solar (California is looking at 33 percent by 2020) – comes from a state where 70 percent of generation comes from coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or EIA.

Colorado also produces coal, from one surface and three underground mines, and sells 75 percent of it elsewhere. The state also imports low-sulfur Wyoming coal, and is responsible for more than 25 percent of all the coalbed methane in the U.S.

This is not a green profile, and anything the state can do to improve this brown footprint will improve air quality, which has been gradually deteriorating over Denver since the late 1970s, thanks in part to the coal-fired generating plant located north of the city in Adams County.

In fact, Colorado has had its RPS since November of 2004, via Amendment No. 37. And – while not the first state to do so, news reports notwithstanding (that honor probably goes to Iowa, closely followed by Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada and Maine) – supported a significant standard early on compared to many states who sidestepped the whole issue of renewable energy sources like solar.

Even New Jersey, which stands near the head of the class in renewable energy incentives, didn’t get its head seriously into the game until 2004, when it mandated 20 percent by 2020.

The next step for Colorado’s new and improved RPS is for Gov. Bill Ritter to sign it, which seems very likely given Gov. Ritter’s past support to green energy measures and his current advocacy for this most recent increase – an advocacy that he announced at the beginning of the 2010-2011 legislative session which kicked off on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

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