@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

What we know so far about Denver’s commitment to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 — @COindependent #ActOnClimate

Xcel Energy proposes to close two of its coal-fired generating units at Comanche, indicated by smokestacks at right. The stack at left, for the plant completed in 2010, provides energy for a portion of Aspen and for the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys. In the foreground is the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains at its opening. Photo/Allen Best

From The Colorado Independent (Shannon Mullane):

Denver has now become the 10th, and largest, Colorado municipality to commit to 100 percent of its electricity being powered by renewable energy.

Mayor Michael Hancock announced the initiative at Monday’s State of the City address, then offered some details at a Tuesday news conference.

The goal is part of Denver’s new 2018 80×50 Climate Action Plan, which targets sectors with the highest greenhouse gas emissions and establishes a strategy to reduce those emissions by 80 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2050.

“While the White House has made a show of stepping back on this issue, it’s important to know that we listen to the people of our city; we listen to our stakeholders, and Denver can keep moving forward and we will remain committed,” Hancock said.

Aspen already uses 100 percent renewable energy sources to power the city, and Boulder, Breckenridge, Lafayette, Longmont, Nederland, the City and County of Pueblo, and Summit County have each committed to doing the same, according to the Sierra Club.

Denver currently ranks third in the nation for the worst urban heat island effect. Caused by human land uses like large paved areas, this effect causes Denver to heat up to 23 degrees hotter on average than nearby rural areas, according to the 2017 80×50 Climate Goal: Stakeholder Report. The report also says Denver can expect other climate impacts, such as increased frequency of extreme weather events, plus reduced snowpack and earlier snowmelt.

“This isn’t just an environmental issue. … It’s about health, it’s about equity, … it’s about community and it’s also a jobs issue,” Hancock said. “We took all that information and the science behind it, and we developed a pathway to get us to 80 percent reductions by 2050.”

Three sectors — buildings, transportation and electricity supply —make up 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Denver. The 80×50 plan involves a series of interim goals to reduce emissions in each sector.

For example, in 2025, all municipal buildings will use renewable electricity, Hancock pledged. By 2030, he said, the entire Denver community will use 100 percent renewable electricity.

In order to achieve this goal, Denver must work closely with Xcel Energy Colorado, Denver’s main electricity provider. In early March, Hancock and Xcel Energy Colorado president David Eaves signed the Energy Future Partnership, a formal commitment to collaborate as Denver pursues its renewable energy goals.

In August 2017, Xcel laid out a plan to draw 55 percent of its energy statewide from renewables by 2026, a proposal that is currently under review by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Right now, 44 percent of the electricity Xcel provides Denver comes from coal, while natural gas and renewable energy sources are almost equal, at 28 percent and 25 percent respectively, according to Xcel’s 2017 Annual Community Energy Report for Denver.

With Xcel’s 2026 target, Denver would already receive 55 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
“That allows us to chart a path to say, given what we know, what do we need for Denver to get to 100 percent?” said Thomas Herrod, climate and policy analyst for the city.

Although Denver will still receive 45 percent of its energy from non-renewable sources after 2030, it will implement enough other renewable energy and energy efficiency projects to achieve net-zero non-renewable energy use, Herrod said.

Many of these projects involve the building and transportation sectors, which will take until 2050 to reach their end goals, the city has said.

While Denver plans to reach 15 percent electric vehicle registrations in Denver by 2025, its goal is that all passenger vehicles, taxis and transportation network vehicles, such as Uber and Lyft, will be electric by 2050. The hope is that all public transportation will be carbon-free, and after infrastructure expansion, more commuters will depend on telecommuting, biking, walking or using public transit to get to work.

Denver’s population has also doubled since 1960, increased by nearly 25 percent since 2000, and was estimated at over 700,000 as of 2017.

While the city expands, low-income families are pushed farther out, said Jeff Su, executive director of Mile High Connects. The city is partnering with Mile High Connects, a collaborative of 23 grassroots or philanthropic organizations and financial institutions, to make sure that public transportation is affordable for low-income families.

“Families that are already spending 50 percent of their income on housing and transportation cannot afford any more increases on their energy bill as we make this shift to renewable energy,” Su said.

For four years, the city and Mile High Connects have been working on a low-income transit fare. In September, the Regional Transportation District board will be voting on a 40 percent discount for all families at 185 percent or below the federal poverty level, Su said, asking that city and community groups urge the RTD board to accept this low-income fare.

For building infrastructure, the plan includes six benchmarks, starting with a 15 percent reduction in energy use in commercial buildings by 2020, moving to a 20 percent reduction in residential homes, and ending with 50 percent reduction of energy use in commercial buildings in 2050. The plan also sets goals for reducing thermal heating emissions and making new buildings net zero energy.

This means more aggressive energy codes, incentives for new buildings, and a home-energy rating system for residential buildings so that owners, renters and potential buyers can make informed decisions about a home’s efficiency and operating costs, according to the Climate Action Plan.

Denver first began working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2007 when it released the 2007 Climate Action Plan and current governor and then-mayor John Hickenlooper, signed on to the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In 2012, the city accomplished these goals when it reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent per capita relative to 2005 values. Then, in 2015, Denver released the first version of its 80×50 goal in its 2015 Climate Action Plan, followed by a two-year stakeholder input process that incorporated expertise from 44 different organizations.

In order to meet The 2020 Sustainability Goals, the first set of benchmarks in the city’s long-term plan, Denver has two years to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by about a million metric tons, from 12.79 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent to 11.8 mmtCO2e. and to meet a variety of consumption reduction targets and identified metrics for improving air quality, food, health and nine other quality of life categories.
“Let’s be clear, there’s a lot that needs to be done to get us there, but we have a lot to build on as well,” Hancock said, referring to the Energize Denver Program and plans to build more electric charging stations, bike paths, walking paths and more efficient public transportation.

“This plan shows that the tools to solve this generational challenge are available and affordable today.”

@CSUtilities: Expanding our renewable energy portfolio #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From From the ReSources Blog (Amy T.)

We are excited to announce the start of two utility-scale solar projects that will significantly increase our amount of renewable energy to power the Pikes Peak Region.

“We are committed to offering our customers a cleaner, more diverse and affordable energy portfolio to power their homes and businesses,” says John Romero, general manager of Energy Acquisition Engineering and Planning.
The two projects totaling 95 megawatts will add enough solar energy to power about 30,000 homes annually and increase our solar energy offering to 130 megawatts. Combined with hydro power, our renewable energy portfolio will total about 15 percent of our summer generating capacity when the projects come online.

The peak use of electricity in Colorado Springs typically occurs in the afternoon on hot, sunny days. This high use coincides with the prime time for solar generation.

“The contribution of solar energy to our grid during these peak times is extremely valuable,” explains Romero. “These projects will enable us to have a clean source of generation that decreases the demand on our grid and provides a fixed price for energy over the next 20 years.”

We will purchase the energy generated by both projects combined for less than $31 per megawatt hour.

Palmer Solar Project
We signed a 20-year contract with Colorado-based renewable energy company juwi Inc. (juwi) to supply us with renewable energy from the Palmer Solar Project totaling 60 megawatts.

The approximately 500-acre site selected for this project is part of Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District’s property, located in El Paso County. juwi will be responsible for developing, building and operating the facility planned to come online by December 2020.

“Working with Springs Utilities has been a first-rate experience, and we’re grateful for their commitment to bring safe, clean, cost-effective and reliable energy to their customers,” says Mike Martin, juwi’s president and CEO. “We’re especially excited to be building once again in our home state, and we look forward to our continued relationship with Springs Utilities, the landowners and El Paso County as we operate the facility over the coming decades.”

Grazing Yak Project
We signed a 25-year contract with NextEra Energy Resources (NextEra), the largest generator of solar and wind power in North America, to supply us with renewable energy from the Grazing Yak Project totaling 35 megawatts.

The approximately 270-acre site selected for this project located south of Calhan, Colo. NextEra will be responsible for developing, building and operating the facility planned to come online in late 2019.

“We are pleased to work with our partners at Springs Utilities to develop another solar energy center,” says Kevin Gildea, vice president of development, NextEra. “Once operational, this project will provide an important source of additional tax revenue for the county and will generate cost-effective, home-grown solar energy for Springs Utilities customers for years to come.”

#Drought news: “It feels like the edge of that desert has moved 50 or 75 miles in my lifetime” — Ed Zink #aridification

West Drought Monitor July 10, 2018.

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

“Most of the pasture we used last year we’re not using this year because there’s no moisture,” [Matt] Isgar said of the land he ranches in Hesperus, west of Durango. “There’s no new growth.”

With the dark red bull’s eye of exceptional drought looming over the Four Corners region, Isgar has lowered his grazing standards. He sold off 35 cows to stave off financial bleeding, but there are still costs.

“We’re spending more material and labor fixing fences and hauling water, and we’re supplementing with protein. So every day is more expensive to operate,” he said.

Hot and dry conditions have become an insidious foe to Colorado ranchers and farmers. While dry summers aren’t new, a winter and spring with little snow and rain have pushed parts of the state to get drier, faster. June marked the third warmest on record for the entire state. Colorado should soon see normal monsoon moisture, but that won’t help Rocky Ford cantaloupe farmer Greg Smith. The legendary local crop grows out on the southern eastern plains, another region dealing with exceptional drought.

Smith saw the writing on the wall with the spring’s low snow pack and only planted a third of his 100 acre farm.

“It’s just brown dry,” he said. “A match gets started on fire and you have a prairie fire that may run for miles.”

There’s a cost to leaving fields empty. Smith still treats the soil to prevent weeds. And financially, even with fewer acres planted, he has the same bills to pay. Even his retirement plans got delayed. His intention to build a second retirement residence was torched by the Spring Creek Fire…

Nearby Baca County was the epicenter of the 30s dust bowl, so dryland wheat farmer Brian Brooks said he’s seen worse. His crop yields are down by about 5 bushels per acre. Prices have decreased slightly. His only saving grace at the moment was above average rainfall from last year that supercharged the soil. Farming advances have allowed him to conserve that moisture for his benefit for now.

The future likely will mean hotter temperatures which can prolong drought. Roger Pulwarty, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said hotter temperatures can prompt flash droughts, like in 2012, when the majority of the U.S. dried in just a few months.

“This idea of intensification in drought is what makes drought very unique … By the time it’s intensified, we’ve used up all the buffers we’ve relied on, [like] cheaper grain. And now we’re at the mercy of a very, very strong event,” he said.

It feels like that hotter drier future has already arrived for hay grower Ed Zink. For 70 years he’s lived on Waterfall Ranch, near Durango. He typically sees the namesake waterfall on the nearby rocky cliffs — but not this year. It’s a first for Zink…

Zink watched the 416 Fire come within a half mile of this property in June, another first. Ample water rights for his property have meant little difficulty for growing hay this year. But 70 years ago, Zink said his property was situated at the edge of alpine forest. He could see desert to the south. That desert has started marching northward toward his farm.

“I don’t know how to exactly put it in perspective,” he said. “It feels like the edge of that desert has moved 50 or 75 miles in my lifetime.”

Zink’s neighbor’s wells have started to dry up, another change in his lifetime. Groundwater is on the decline, and the cause is not fully known. La Plata County plans on a comprehensive study of the problem. The picture adds up to a landscape of more people making due with less water.