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Colorado Leads Clean Energy Reform

This session, Colorado continues its tradition of being a national leader in championing clean energy reform through legislative efforts that expand its renewable energy standards, reduce the amount of pollution from coal, and promote the funding of clean energy development.

Increasing Energy from Renewables:  Last week, the state enacted one of the most far-reaching clean energy laws in the country, requiring 30 percent of large utilities’ electricity to come from renewable energy resources by 2020 and becoming the 31st state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to have renewable energy requirements. 

Under HB 1001, utilities must supply at least 12 percent of their retail electric sales from such sources from 2011 to 2014, 20 percent from 2015 to 2019, and 30 percent for 2020 and beyond.  Three percent of this standard must be met by local solar power, leading to the construction and installation of 100,000 solar rooftops, panels, and turbines.  As we detailed in a previous Dispatch, the great advantages of solar investment include the high number of components that are involved in installing solar power systems.  Manufacturing and installing these devices requires a large and diverse workforce that cannot be outsourced overseas, guaranteeing that these jobs will remain in the states.  In fact, more than 200 solar companies already operate in Colorado, and with this boost, more companies will be moving there to create even more job opportunities.  “This bill will boost the New Energy Economy and grow Colorado’s renewable energy markets,” said Mary Broderick, renewable energy and marketing agent with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 68, which will help train a new generation of solar installers.”  A wide coalition of stakeholders also backed the law, including environmental groups like Environment Colorado, and the largest utility in Colorado, Xcel Energy, which serves 70 percent of the state’s population. 

The Colorado law will be one of the strongest in the nation, falling just short of California's standard which will require utilities to derive 33 percent of their electricity from renewable by 2020.  But, with California already falling short of the 2010 goal, there is an emphasis on the need for ongoing work to ensure that these standards become reality.  Still, the Colorado bill promises to create a diverse portfolio of energy resources to keep energy affordable in the long term, and similar renewable energy standards have been shown to be an efficient method for promoting renewable energy use in the states.

Cutting Emissions from Coal: Colorado also passed the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, obliging rate-regulated utilities that operate coal-fired electric generating units to reduce emissions or consider converting from coal generation to natural gas.  Under HB 1365, utilities must submit to the public utilities commission an emission reduction plan for emissions covering the lesser of 900 megawatts or 50 percent of the utility’s coal-fired electric generating units in Colorado.  Utilities such as Xcel Energy must prepare a comprehensive plan to reduce nitrogen-oxides pollution by up to 80 percent at its coal-burning plants, which could cut Xcel’s Colorado coal fleet by 30% and a cut of as much as 5 million tons a year in carbon pollution.  

Xcel has entered negotiations with state officials and agreed to support this bill, announcing that some its coal plants could operate with retrofits and others could be replaced by natural gas.  In exchange, the bill allows Xcel to lock in prices in deals lasting up to 20 years.  Gov. Bill Ritter and environmental advocacy groups are also backing HB 1365, although not all are on board with this bill, including a number of labor unions who fear job loss in the mining and railroad industries.  Some conservation groups are also worried that natural gas development may lead to a wide set of problems, ranging from reduced air and water quality to increased costs.

Investing in Clean Energy Development:  Finally, the Colorado House has passed HB 1182, which seeks to expand loans and financing agreements to facilitate electric power interconnection projects, which is especially critical for rural areas that need to access energy from Colorado’s main power grid in an energy-efficient manner.  As the Progressive States Network and its partner organizations highlighted in our report Networking the Green Economy, smart technologies are needed to transport energy from solar panels and wind farms to consumers.

Each of these bills is a step toward continuing Colorado's national leadership in fostering a greener future.

Resources:
Colorado HB 10-1001
Colorado HB 10-1365
Colorado HB 10-1182
Progressive States Network — Renewable Portfolio Standards Across the States
Progressive States Network - Solar Energy Continues to Make Its Case - Now as a Job Creator
Progressive States Network — Networking the Green Economy: How Broadband and Related Technologies Can Build a Green Economic Future
BusinessWeekColorado Gas-Coal Fight Could Preview National Battle
Center for American Progress — Xcel-erating Natural Gas in Colorado
In Denver Times - Ritter Signs Historic Renewable Energy Bill, Increasing Standard to 30% by 2020
New York TimesColorado Increases Renewable Requirements