From The Boulder Daily Camera (Will Toor):
Right now, leaders from across the world are gathered in Scotland for the latest UN climate conference, seeking to address the climate crisis. Here in Colorado, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change, with the largest wildfires in state history, air quality impacts from wildfires across the west, and the closure this summer of I-70 due to mudslides following last year’s Glenwood Canyon fires.
Luckily, there is a LOT being done here in Colorado to address these challenges. Three years ago, Gov. Jared Polis campaigned on a platform of 100% clean electricity generation by 2040 and bold climate action, and in the intervening period the state has vaulted to the forefront of climate action. Through legislation, regulations, public investment and partnerships with local government, unions and the private sector, we have made real progress on an equitable transition towards a low carbon, clean energy future — all while strengthening the economy, addressing inequities, and working to improve local air quality.
In 2019 Gov. Polis signed legislation establishing science-based targets to reduce GHG pollution 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 90% by 2050. For a sense of scale, this means cutting annual GHG pollution by 70 million tons by 2030. We immediately got to work on both implementing obvious “no regrets” strategies and developing a strategic GHG roadmap to determine the most important actions to take to achieve the 2030 targets.
The first big area we focused on was electricity generation, one of the two largest sources of GHG pollution. We got commitments from utilities representing 99% of the fossil fuel generation in the state to achieve at least 80% reduction in pollution by 2030. We have locked these commitments in through legislative requirements and action by state air and utility regulators. In practice, it looks like we will exceed these targets. Xcel Energy, the largest utility in the state, filed a plan at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to achieve 85% by 2030, and based on our analysis, we are advocating for the PUC to approve a plan that gets to 90%. The second largest utility, Tri-State, has a plan to close every coal plant they have in Colorado and replace them primarily with wind and solar. All of this is enabled by the remarkable advances in cheap renewables, in which the cost per kilowatt hour of NEW wind and solar is often about half the cost for just operating and maintaining EXISTING coal plants.
We also worked with the Colorado Legislature this year to pass binding requirements on industry to achieve the sector-specific targets set in the GHG roadmap. State air regulators are now required to adopt new rules that will reduce pollution from the oil and gas industry by 60%, and from the rest of industry by 20% by 2030. State air regulators are already in the process of adopting rules for oil and gas, and a first set of industrial rules focused on steel mills and cement plants. And regulators have already adopted a phaseout of superpolluting hydrofluorocarbons.
Burning natural gas in buildings is another one of the top sources of GHG pollution. Legislation passed this year will expand gas and electric utility programs to help their customers electrify heating and improve efficiency, require large commercial buildings to improve their energy performance, expand investment in low income weatherization, and create new financing tools for building upgrades. Tying all of this together is a first in the nation requirement for gas utilities to develop “clean heat plans” that will achieve at least 22% reduction in pollution by 2030.
Transportation is the largest single source of GHG pollution. The state has already adopted low and zero emission vehicle regulations, and has taken major steps on supporting the transition to electric cars, trucks and buses, including through the legislation requiring utility investment in EV infrastructure, and to invest new state transportation revenue in EV infrastructure and incentives. Together, these will invest about $1 billion in EV infrastructure and programs, to support a million EVs on the road by 2030. And the state is adopting an innovative new GHG pollution standard which will require state and regional transportation plans to shift funding towards public transit and walkable, bikeable communities.
The net effect of these policies is projected to achieve 95 % of the 70 million ton target, while improving air quality. And we have big plans to do more in the coming year. We need to work with local governments to reform exclusionary zoning that keeps housing out of our prosperous cities, harming low and middle income workers while forcing far longer drives that contribute to pollution. The governor is proposing a half-a-billion dollars of investments in this year’s budget to improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions – accelerating adoption of electric school buses, supporting industrial emissions reduction, rebates for Ebikes, expanding public transit, making fares free during the high ozone season, and more. We will be finalizing the state clean trucking strategy this winter, and considering zero emission vehicle standards for trucks next spring. This just touches the surface — there is action on carbon capture, green hydrogen, improved building codes, natural and working land… this is an all-of-government effort.
The work isn’t over. In many ways, it is just beginning: addressing climate change is the great work of our time, and will be an ongoing effort through our lifetimes and our children’s lifetimes. But I couldn’t be prouder of the innovation and leadership of the state of Colorado over the last three years.
Will Toor is Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office. It’s mission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and consumer energy costs by advancing clean energy, energy efficiency and zero emission vehicles to benefit all Coloradans.