After Clean Water Act setback, state to ask lawmakers for new authority — @WaterEdCO #dirtywaterrule #WOTUS

Ephemeral streams are streams that do not always flow. They are above the groundwater reservoir and appear after precipitation in the area. Via Socratic.org

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

For the second time in less than a year, state health officials plan to ask lawmakers to fast-track permitting authority over hundreds of miles of streams left unprotected after a 2020 Trump Administration rollback of federal Clean Water Act rules.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s move comes just weeks after a federal court denied Colorado’s effort to prevent the new federal rules from taking effect.

The CDPHE is holding work group sessions and seeking public comment on a proposed bill that is likely to be introduced in the next two weeks, officials said. The CDPHE declined to comment for this article.

Last May Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and won a temporary injunction against the new rules, which would have taken effect in June 2020. But a federal appeals court overturned that decision last month.

As a result, the rules are set to take effect in Colorado April 23. Though many expect the Biden Administration to alter the new rules, once again, state health officials say an interim rule is needed to ensure the state has the permitting authority and the funds needed to protect streams.

The CDPHE launched a similar effort last year, but a lack of support for that proposal caused the agency to withdraw it. Now agency officials say they will try again.

Major water interests, such as the nonpartisan Colorado Water Congress, are closely watching the latest legislative effort.

Colorado Water Congress Executive Director Doug Kemper said right now there is too much uncertainty around which streams and which activities will be overseen by federal and state agencies.

“It’s a big deal right now because you don’t really know what activity is covered and what is exempted,” said Kemper. His group has not taken a position on the CDPHE’s initiative, in part because a formal bill has yet to be introduced.

Environmentalists said it’s important that the state moves quickly to assume the permitting authority to protect streams and to allow millions of dollars in construction, dam and road projects to be properly reviewed and permitted.

Industry groups, however, believe new legislation isn’t required right now because the state has some discretion to act already and because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees much of the work on federally protected streams, also has some discretionary authority to review and issue permits.

“We’re concerned that the focus is solely on legislative options,” said John Kolanz, an attorney who represents the Colorado Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. He believes the state could make changes to its own rules, rather than enacting a new law.

“We don’t think it’s advisable to rush through legislation and a complicated rulemaking by the end of the year,” Kolanz said during a public work group meeting hosted by the CDPHE Monday.

Melinda Kassen, general counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership who tracks water quality regulation, disagreed, saying the CDPHE must be given new legal authority quickly in order to adequately monitor and fund stream protection work over the next one to two years.

“The biggest part of this legislation is getting some fees so that the [Colorado Water Quality Control] division can do its job and go out and see what’s happening on the ground,” Kassen said Monday.

At issue is what’s known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. The rule was designed to classify which streams are subject to federal rules and which activities must obtain permits from the Army Corps to ensure those streams are protected even when they are disturbed by home and road building, construction of new storm water systems, and other activities.

But WOTUS has been contested in courts for years over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge-and-fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and Western irrigation ditches, and what is allowable for industries and wastewater treatment plants to discharge into streams.

It has also been difficult to administer because the U.S. is home to such a wide variety of waterways.

In the East and Midwest massive rivers are filled with barge and shipping traffic and are clearly “navigable.” That was the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was considered navigable, it was subject to federal law.

But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 44 percent of Colorado’s streams are intermittent, meaning they are sometimes dry, and 24 percent are ephemeral, meaning they can be dry for months or years and appear only after extraordinary rain or snow. Just 32 percent of Colorado streams are classified as being perennial, meaning they flow year round.

Under the new federal rule only perennial and intermittent streams, or those deemed navigable, are regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states are no longer protected under the law.

If the CDPHE’s new legislative effort succeeds, it would give state health officials the authority to issue so-called dredge-and-fill permits on stream segments no longer protected by the federal law.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

OPINION: #Water issues and wolves — Don Coram via The #Montrose Daily Press #COleg

Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Here’s a guest column from Don Coram that’s running in The Montrose Daily Press:

While the cat is away, the mice will play. That is exactly what is going on in the Colorado General Assembly. With all the COVID-19 issues from the last session, the executive branch and regulatory agencies had full control of Government. It appears the regulatory agencies are still trying to flex their muscles.

It has been that agencies used fiscal notes to gain favor or opposition using this analysis of the cost of enacting a bill. Last week I had SB 21-034 in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee. This bill was to have the conversation of funding for Colorado’s water future. To bring a little history to the subject, Gov. Hickenlooper directed in the spring of 2013 for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create a plan for Colorado’s water future. When asked where, does the legislature and general public fit? The director of the Department of Natural Resources told us we did not. Under the leadership of former Sen. Ellen Roberts, she and I drafted legislation to bring the conversation to the designated river basins. Ironically, our largest meeting was in Durango. From those meetings, the Colorado Water Plan was written.

With all the information, the Colorado Water Plan has never been really implemented, because of no stable funding source. So, to start the conversation I drafted and introduced SB-034; it also sat on the shelf for two years prior to introduction. The measure would send to the voters in November of 2022 the question of creating a new enterprise to fund Colorado’s water future. The enterprise would combine the CWCB and the Water and Power Authority to provide grants to water issues, such as treated domestic water, gray water, infrastructure and projects among others.

Now to the source of my frustration. The fiscal note states that CWCB who already has a grant program for funds that are expended from dollars generated by severance tax would require 7.6 new employees and over $1.25 million to implement the first year and more than $1 million annually to continue. The entire ag committee was frustrated by the department’s position on the projected costs. Estimated cost to the average household was $1.59 per month, and annual revenue was in excess of $38.2 million. The bill failed on party line vote, but the message was sent.

SB 21-105 is another example of fiscal note jeopardy. With the passage of Amendment 114, reintroduction of the gray wolf, it stated that a plan for reintroduction shall be completed by Dec. 31, 2023. In addressing the Colorado Wildlife Commission, Gov. Polis seemed to give a strong desire to have wolves on the ground in early 2022. Let me make it perfectly clear, I am not challenging the vote of the people. I just want to ensure CPW does it as prescribed in Amendment 114. Side by side comparisons were shown except for the addition on chickens and alternative livestock. The Blue Book projected first year costs at $344,000 and second year costs at $467,000 Those must be some expensive chickens, because the fiscal note asks for $841,414 in the first year and one FTE and $1,003,945 and three FTE in the second year; $300,000 a year for a meeting facilitator; $600,000.00 to host meetings for two years. That seems to be better and less time consuming than this legislator gig. Once again committee members rail on such asinine projections. Final vote, it failed on a party line vote. There is no funding for the wolf reintroduction. So, tell me whose ox gets gored? Education, transportation, health and environment, department of corrections, governor’s office, or what?

On Saturday, March 20, 2021 Colorado may have had an air quality alert from all the meat that was grilled or served in restaurants throughout Colorado. The Governor’s meatless proclamation certainly had a ripple effect in perhaps setting the record for the most meat consumed in one day in Colorado. I don’t think that was the plan, but my gratitude for all those who stood with Colorado ranchers and farmers.

FYI, the “Cat” is in the building.

2021 #COleg: #Colorado #Water Legislator Webinar, March 30, 2021 — @AudubonRockies

Colorado River. Photo credit: Abby Burk via Audubon Rockies

Click here to register.

From email from Audubon Rockies (Abby Burk):

Event Details

Colorado Water Legislator Webinar, March 30, 2021, Zoom, 8 – 8:45 am, Mountain Time, Free

Audience

This event will be tailored for Colorado legislators, but all members of the public are welcome to join.

Clean and reliable water supplies are essential to our ways of life in Colorado. All of us depend on healthy flowing rivers: agricultural producers, cities and towns, businesses, recreation, and the environment. 2021 is a key year for Colorado water. Up ahead are the update of the Colorado Water Plan, the beginning of the renegotiation around the Colorado River, deepening drought, wildfire impacts, and performance of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans, a temporary yet broad agreement to reduce water use and ensure that Lakes Powell and Mead continue to provide a reliable water supply. One thing is clear. We all play a role in sustaining Colorado’s water future. Join us in discussing its course.

No blarney: State approves up to $75 million for water projects, fire-scarred watersheds — @WaterEdCO

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Colorado’s fire-scarred mountainsides, small-town water districts, drought-stricken rivers and ranches, and the Colorado Water Plan will see a one-time cash infusion of $32 million to $75 million under a bipartisan stimulus program approved by Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado lawmakers last week.

The Colorado Recovery Plan, as it is known, sets out a $700 million spending plan that includes funds for transportation, education and small businesses, among others, and also includes:

+$10 million to $25 million for wildfire recovery and risk mitigation;

+$10 million to $20 million for projects identified under the Colorado Water Plan;

+$10 million to $25 million for mountain watershed restoration; and

+$2 million to $5 million for agricultural drought response.

In hard-hit cities such a Glenwood Springs, where last summer’s Grizzly Creek fire came close to destroying its mountain water system, the cash could help the city’s multi-million-dollar effort to rebuild its water treatment plant and other projects.

“The details aren’t clear yet,” said Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa, “but we absolutely plan to look into it.”

For groups that have been working for years to establish a permanent source of funding for the Colorado Water Plan’s myriad projects and programs as well as stream and watershed restoration projects, the funding is expected to provide a much-needed boost.

“The good news is that this will reach projects all over the state,” said Bart Miller, healthy rivers program director at Western Resource Advocates and member of the Water for Colorado Coalition. “I think it’s going to be money well spent. It’s one-time, but it’s going to have a big impact for the water plan and drought [mitigation].”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board oversees the water plan.

“We don’t yet have any plans in place to determine how the funding would impact our programs,” said spokesperson Sara Leonard. “Watershed funding is of course needed for post-fire mitigation needs, and we also look forward to working with the legislature on how funding can be put to the best use.”

The recovery plan also allocates millions of dollars for rural communities and the ranches and cattle operations that have struggled during the pandemic and persistent drought conditions.

“Agriculture has been hard hit by the drought, and we do need more money for water projects,” said Gene Manuello, an Eastern Plains rancher near Sterling.

But Manuello said the sprawling spending plan raised questions in his mind about whether the state was spending money too freely.

“I’m a Republican and I am, in general, not in favor of these kinds of government stimulus programs,” he said.

The $700 million recovery program is being funded by a better-than-expected recovery in state tax revenue collections. Last year as the pandemic swept the country, shutting down businesses and government offices, Colorado slashed $3.3 billion from the state budget, anticipating that it would take several years before tax revenues recovered enough to restore state spending.

But the turnaround came faster than expected, allowing lawmakers and the governor to jump-start infrastructure work and job creation in order to help the state recover faster.

Western Resource Advocates’ Miller said the $32 million to $75 million will be useful for dozens of groups and communities.

“I’m very encouraged,” Miller said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org.

2021 #COleg: HB21-1181 Agricultural Soil Health Program

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

Here’s a guest column from John Stulp that’s running in the Sterling Journal-Advocate:

The proposed “Voluntary Soil Health Program,” (HB21-1181), would empower the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) to develop voluntary, incentivized programs for Colorado farmer and ranchers that will support the vitality of agriculture statewide. This bipartisan legislation, HB21-1181, was introduced by State Reps. Karen McCormick (D-Longmont) and Perry Will (R-New Castle),and State Sen. Cleave Simpson (R-Alamosa).

As a longtime farmer and rancher involved with the Prowers Conservation District and who cares about Colorado agriculture and rural communities, I fully support this legislation and encourage others to study and support it as well.

No sector of our economy is more vulnerable to the unpredictable economic climate, weather extremes including drought, dwindling water supplies, and development pressures. These constraints have and are likely to become more extreme, and HB21-1181 can help Colorado farmers and ranchers continue their long legacy of land and soil stewardship that have helped them withstand these pressures to date.

Graphic via Aksik.org.

The experience of farmers and ranchers in Colorado and nationwide – and research by CSU scientists – shows that adopting best soil health practices can reduce input costs and at the same time improve soil productivity, drought resilience and, ultimately, increase long-term viability. For these reasons, farmers and ranchers are increasingly adopting best management practices. From 2012 to 2017 in Colorado: No-till acreage increased 5.0%; reduced till acreage increased 38.4%; and traditional “intensive tillage” land management decreased by 21.3%. Over half of the 12,407 Colorado livestock operations practiced adaptive grazing management in 2017.

Nonetheless, farmers and ranchers face barriers to adopting soil health practices. Investing in soil health means upfront costs, but long-term benefits. Additional funding, technical assistance and educational opportunities are needed. Colorado conservation districts have a great history of soil stewardship, but they often have insufficient resources to meet farmers and ranchers needs. Likewise, USDA NRCS programs are competitive and do not fully meet farmers and ranchers needs.

HB21-1181 would help fill those gaps. The voluntary soil health program would complement USDA NRCS programs and help farmers and ranchers better access those resources. The USDA is indicating that soil health is a high priority, and this legislation will position Colorado to better access those federal resources. It would also provide additional resources to conservation districts and counties who want to work with producers on soil health. Programs would also help farmers and ranchers enter established, as well as new and emerging, markets for alternative crops and crops grown using best soil health practices.

HB21-1181 is the result of a multi-year stakeholder process involving Colorado farmers, ranchers, producer groups, scientists, and conservation districts. This bill explicitly prohibits CDA from implementing any type of program that is mandatory or involuntary. To ensure that new programming works for farmers and ranchers, the bill establishes a state soil health advisory committee to develop voluntary and incentives-based programs based on the needs of the agricultural community. These include a grant program, a reduced cost soil health testing program, and other programs supported by the agricultural community.

Most of Colorado land — 51.8 million acres, or 78% — is used for some form of agricultural production. This bill will help keep that land in agriculture. The benefits of these programs will not only go to farmers and ranchers but will have a positive impact on our rural communities and be enjoyed for generations to come. Healthy soil is one of the most practical and available tools for farmers and ranchers to enhance their long-term viability. HB21-1181 will help ensure that resources are available to every Colorado farmer and rancher, regardless of size, who wants to improve their soil health.

I urge everyone who is concerned about the future of Colorado’s agriculture and rural communities to contact your representative and senator in the Colorado General Assembly and encourage them to support this common-sense legislation.

John Stulp is the former Commissioner of Agriculture under Governor Bill Ritter, Water Policy Advisor to Governor John Hickenlooper and a wheat and cattle farmer/rancher in Prowers County.

Water for #Colorado Coalition Applauds Legislature, Governor’s Inclusion of Water Priorities in Stimulus Funding — @water4colorado #COleg

State Capitol May 12, 2018 via Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from Water For Colorado (Ayla Besemer):

The Water for Colorado coalition today lauded Governor Jared Polis’ and the Legislature’s inclusion of up to $50 million in Colorado’s stimulus package for water-specific projects, including watershed restoration, drought recovery and management, and additional support for projects outlined in the state’s water plan. The stimulus funds will invest in communities and put people to work while supporting Colorado’s water security, healthy rivers, and watersheds.

The package includes a one-time allocation of $10 million to $20 million for the completion of projects helping to meet Colorado’s current and future river health and water supply needs, examples of which can be found here. An additional $10 million to $25 million is allocated to watershed restoration following the devastating 2020 wildfire season. These types of projects help prevent runoff in previously burned areas, keeping drinking water supplies and wildlife habitat safe, while creating jobs. Additionally, $2 million to $5 million will be directed specifically toward farmers and ranchers to assist in drought response and preparation, as 99% of the state grapples with drought conditions unlikely to be rectified by winter snowpack.

In response to the release of The Colorado Recovery Plan and its prioritization of water funding, the Water for Colorado coalition issued the following statement:

“We are encouraged to see that statewide water and river projects, watershed health, and drought response are priorities in Colorado’s stimulus package. By elevating water priorities and funding, Governor Polis and House and Senate leaders follow the consistent will of voters across Colorado and emphasize the importance of investing in water as part of Colorado’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. With this crucial influx of state funding, we will also be better equipped to continue working together to increase resilience to a changing climate. We look forward to working with the Legislature and governor to maximize the amount and impact of these dollars.”

About the Water for Colorado Coalition

The Water for Colorado coalition is a group of nine organizations dedicated to ensuring our rivers support everyone who depends on them, working toward resilience to climate change, planning for sustained and more severe droughts, and enabling every individual in Colorado to have a voice and the opportunity to take action to advocate for sustainable conservation-based solutions for our state’s water future. The community of organizations that make up the Water for Colorado Coalition represent diverse perspectives and share a commitment to protecting Colorado’s water future to secure a reliable water supply for the state and for future generations.

#Colorado lawmakers, governor unveil $700M state economic stimulus plan. Here’s where the money will go — The Colorado Sun

Rich Meisinger Jr., business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, explains an aspect of the coal economy to Gov. Jared Polis in March 2020. Photo credit: Allen Best

From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

Top Democratic and Republican state lawmakers on Wednesday joined Gov. Jared Polis to unveil the broad strokes of a roughly $700 million state economic stimulus plan, most of which is set to go to “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, including repairs to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels and Interstate 70 bridges

The shovel-ready projects will total $170 million, or about a quarter of all the spending. Hundreds of millions more is set to be spent on other, longer term infrastructure projects, like expanding broadband access and revitalizing main streets in Colorado cities and towns.

The remainder of the spending includes initiatives to invest in rural Colorado, support the recovery of small businesses, workforce training and development, affordable housing development and mental health. There’s also money for child care and support for schools and students…

The announcement comes as President Joe Biden is expected to sign a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus plan, which Congress approved Wednesday. State leaders were awaiting the details of that aid package — which includes billions of dollars for child care, education, unemployment and other needs in Colorado — before finalizing their own spending plan…

The money Colorado lawmakers are using to pay for the state stimulus plan comes from unexpected tax revenue.

The legislature slashed the state’s budget last year by about $3.5 billion in anticipation of an economic downtown because of the coronavirus pandemic. While there was a downturn, the economy has fared better than expected, leaving the General Assembly with more than $1 billion to allocate…

In areas that experience low-severity burns, fire events can serve to eliminate vegetative competition, rejuvenate its growth and improve watershed conditions. But, in landscapes subjected to high or even moderate burn severity, the post-fire threats to public safety and natural resources can be extreme. Photo credit: Colorado State Forest Service

Under the stimulus plan, up to $131 million would go toward boosting agriculture and rural communities, including $20 million to $35 million in competitive grants for rural agriculture infrastructure investments and millions toward forest and watershed restoration projects to protect communities against wildfire.

Other spending priorities include:

Infrastructure:

  • $30 million on projects to revitalize community main streets
  • $60 million to $80 million in matching funds for downtown revitalization efforts and to create more affordable housing options in urban areas
  • $50 million to $75 million to expand broadband internet access
  • $30 million to $40 million for existing clean energy programs
  • Small business support

  • $40 million to $50 million in sales tax relief for small restaurants and bars
  • $20 million to $30 million toward lending institutions that cater to “historically underserved” entrepreneurs
  • $10 million to $15 million in one-time grants to small businesses, with a priority for rural, women, minority and veteran-owned businesses
  • Community and school support

  • $10 million to $15 million to rent, lease or buy hotel rooms for unhoused individuals
  • $8 million to $10 million in seed funding for a program to incentivize local governments to adopt affordable housing development policies
  • $5 million to $10 million to support child care businesses
  • $8 million to $9 million for mental health screenings in schools
  • Rural investments

  • $10 million to $25 million for forest restoration and wildfire recovery projects and another $10 million to $25 million toward watershed restoration grants
  • $10 million to $15 million to create new job opportunities as part of the transition away from coal
  • Workforce development

  • $15 million to $25 million in grants to local workforce boards
  • $10 million to $15 million to help provide scholarships for people with some college but no degree
  • Each proposal will come in the form of an individual bill. That legislation has yet to be released, so the details remain unclear.

    Fenberg said he expects stimulus measures to start being introduced in a matter of weeks. Polis is pressuring the legislature to act quickly so that Colorado’s economic revival can begin as soon as possible. He wants the stimulus money to be spent in the next 18 months.

    2021 #COleg: On tap at capitol: wildfire restoration, underground water storage, new #water funding authority — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado state capitol building. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Colorado lawmakers are considering three major water bills that would help finance wildfire mitigation and forest health projects, study underground water storage for future beneficial use, and create a state enterprise to fund drinking and wastewater projects through fees paid by water utility customers.

    A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado

    Wildfire mitigation and forest health

    Last year was Colorado’s worst wildfire season ever. The three largest fires on record burned over 600,000 acres. Water providers fear that spring runoff will clog streams and reservoirs with ash and sediment, damaging clean water supplies.

    House Bill 1008 is sponsored by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose. (Editor’s note: Rep. Arndt is a board member of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News). HB21-1008 (Forest Health Project Financing) aims to help fund local wildfire mitigation and forest health efforts to protect watersheds. It would allow counties, municipalities and special districts to band together and form special improvement districts empowered to levy property taxes to fund wildfire mitigation and forest health projects. It would also make those improvement districts eligible for $50 million from a Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA) bond program, and expand the program’s life by 10 years to last through 2033.

    Arndt said districts would be formed voluntarily and noted that any property tax assessments would require voter approval. “The Colorado way,” she said, “opt in.” Catlin, the bill’s co-sponsor, agreed. “This is an opportunity for communities to take some preemptive steps and, if needed, be able to bond through the state to get help and make the payments to take care of the problem.” Keith McLaughlin, CWRPDA executive director, emphasized that “every $1 in fire mitigation efforts saves between $3 and $6 in fire suppression costs.”

    The House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee passed the bill unanimously to the House Finance Committee Feb. 22. It will be heard there on March 4.

    Water treatment process in Greeley. Graphic via Greeley Water

    Underground water storage

    Concern with declining water tables and the volume of water leaving the state in excess of compact requirements led Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, a rancher and dryland farmer, to introduce HB21-1043 Study Underground Water Storage Maximum Beneficial Use. The bill would require the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to contract with a state university to study ways to maximize beneficial use of water by storing excess surface flows in aquifers for future use. The study would identify aquifers with storage capacity, funds to pay for storage, specific storage projects, and proposed legislation to implement its recommendations. It would be due to the interim Water Resources Review Committee by Aug. 1, 2022.

    While acknowledging the value of underground water storage, some House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee members questioned the need for the study since several similar studies had already been done and at least two large water providers—Denver and Greeley—are already storing water underground. There were also concerns about who would have rights to excess surface flows. Rep. Arndt, committee chair, asked, “Who would get those rights…you can’t just capture excess water?” Rep. Holtorf replied that whoever’s next in line when it reenters the river would gain use to the water; nothing changes the prior appropriation doctrine.

    Rep. Holtorf concluded, “I’m not going to say it’s not complicated, but at the end of the day we’ve got to do something to get maximum beneficial use of water that we give away and try to keep it in our state for the beneficial use of everyone.” He had the backing of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Water Congress and Colorado Groundwater Association. The committee passed the bill 9-1 to the House Finance Committee.

    A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

    Financing water projects

    The Colorado Water Plan, adopted in 2015, projects a need to spend an additional $100 million a year for 30 years in state money to fully fund water projects and activities to meet its objectives. Funding to date has come nowhere near that figure, but a bill introduced this session will try to put a dent in it.

    SB21-034 (Water Resource Financing Enterprise), sponsored by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, would create the Water Resources Financing Enterprise made up of both the CWRPDA and CWCB board of directors. The new enterprise would provide grants and loans for drinking water, wastewater treatment, and raw water delivery projects. The enterprise could issue revenue bonds to be repaid from fees assessed on drinking water customers of 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water delivered each month in excess of the first 4,000 gallons. SB21-034 would generate roughly $37 million annually. If passed, it would go on the November 2022 ballot as a legislatively referred measure for approval by voters statewide.

    The bill is similar to legislation Sen. Coram introduced last year. That bill was defeated in committee with assurances that it would be studied in greater detail by the interim Water Resources Review Committee. The pandemic, however, wiped out all interim studies. SB21-034 has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and is scheduled to be heard on March 4.

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

    Can #Colorado negotiate these steeps? — The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Cap-and-trade proposed as market mechanism to slash carbon emissions. Air quality commission says not now.

    Curtis Rueter works for Noble Energy, one of Colorado’s major oil and gas producers, and is a Republican. That makes him a political minority among the members of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, of which he is chairman.

    In his voting, Rueter, who lives in Westminster, tends a bit more conservative than his fellow commission members from Boulder County. But on the issue of whether to move forward with a process that could have yielded carbon pricing in Colorado, he expressed some sympathy.

    “I am generally in favor of market-based mechanisms, so it’s a little hard to walk away from that,” he said. at the commission’s meeting on Feb. 19. But like nearly all the others on the commission, Rueter said he was persuaded that there were just too many fundamental questions about cap-and-trade system for the AQCC to embrace at this time. Only Boulder County’s Jana Milford dissented in the 7-1 vote. Even Elise Jones, until recently a Boulder County commissioner, voted no.

    Just as important as the final vote may have been the advance testimony. It broke down largely along environmental vs. business lines.

    Western Resource Advocates, Boulder County, and Colorado Communities for a Climate Action testified in favor of the cap-and-trade proposal.

    From the business side came opposition from Xcel Energy, The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and allied chambers from Grand Junction to Fort Collins to Aurora, and, in a 7-page letter, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

    Most businesses echoed what Gov. Jared Polis said in a letter: “While a carbon pricing program may be one of many tools that should be considered in the future as part of state efforts to achieve our goals, our assessment of state level cap and trade programs implemented in other jurisdictions is that they are costly to administer, exceptionally complicated, risk shifting more pollution to communities that already bear the brunt of poor environmental quality, have high risk for unintended consequences, and are not as effective at driving actual emissions reductions as more targeted, sector-specific efforts,” Polis wrote.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at http://bigpivots.com

    The cap-and-trade proposal came from the Environmental Defense Fund. EDF has been saying for a year that Colorado has been moving too slowly to decarbonize following the 2019 passage of the landmark SB-1261. The law requires 50% decarbonization by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

    What does a 50% reduction look like over the course of the next 9 years? Think in terms of ski slopes, and not the dark blue of intermediates or even the ego-boosting single-black-diamond runs at Vail or Snowmass. Not even the mogul-laden Outhouse at Winter Park or Senior’s at Telluride.

    Instead, think of the serious steeps of Silverton Mountain, where an avalanche beacon is de rigueur.

    Can Colorado, a novice at carbon reduction, navigate down this Silverton Mountain-type carbon reduction slope by 2030?

    Colorado, says EDF and Western Resource Advocates, needs a backstop, a more sweeping mechanism to ensure the state hits these carbon reduction goals.

    California has had cap-and-trade for years, and a similar device has been used among New England states to nudge reductions from the power sector. The European Union also has cap-and-trade.

    Following the May 2019 signing of Colorado’s carbon-reduction law, H.B. 19-1261, the Polis administration set out to create an emissions inventory, then began structuring a sector-by-sector approach. For example, the Air Quality Control Commission has conducted lengthy rule-making processes leading up to adoption of regulations in several areas.

    Hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas used in refrigeration, are being tamped down. Emissions from the oil-and gas-sector are being squeezed. The commission this year will direct its attention to proposed rules that result in fewer emissions from transportation.

    Meanwhile, the state has set out to hurry along the state’s electrical utilities from their coal-based foundations to renewables and a small amount of new gas. The utilities representing 99% of the state’s electrical sales have agreed to reduce emissions 80% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. Only one of those commitments, that of Xcel Energy, has the force of law. Others fall under the heading of clean energy plans. But state officials think that utilities likely will decarbonize electricity even more rapidly than their current commitments. That 80% is a bottom, not a top.

    Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office, presented to the Air Quality Control Commission an update on the state’s roadmap. The document released in mid-January runs 276 pages, but Toor boiled it down to 19 slides, which nonetheless took him 60 minutes to explain. It was a rich explanation.

    Toor explained that Colorado needs to reduce emissions by 70 million tons annually. The Polis administration thinks it can achieve close to half of the reductions it needs to meet its 2030 target by 2030 through the retirement of coal plants and associated coal mines. Those reductions alone will yield 32.3 million tons annually.

    The oil and gas sector should yield a reduction of 13 million tons, according to the state’s roadmap. That process had taken a step forward the previous day when the Air Quality Control Commission adopted regulations that tighten the requirements to minimize emissions from pneumatic controllers. Later this year, the AQCC will take up more proposed regulations.

    Replacement of internal-combustion technology in transportation will yield 13 million tons. The Polis administration foresees deep reductions in transportation, partly through an incentives-based approach, even if not it’s not clear what all the components of the strategy look like.

    Near-term actions in buildings, both residential and commercial, and in industrial fuel use can yield another 5 million tons annual reduction.

    Waste reduction—methane from coal mines, landfills, sewage treatment plants, and improved recycling—will nick another 7.5 million tons annually More speculative are the strategies designed to reduce emission from natural and working lands by 1 million tons.

    Add it all up and the state still doesn’t know how it will get all of the way to the 2030 target, let alone its 2050 goal of 90% reduction. Toor and other state officials, however, have expressed confidence that the roadmap can get Colorado far down the road to the decarbonization destination and is skeptical that cap-and-trade will.

    “I would agree with the characterization that cap-and-trade guarantees emissions reductions,” said Toor. In the real world, he explains, those regimes struggle to achieve reductions particularly in sectors such as transportation where there are many decisions. The more demonstrable achievement has been in producing revenue to be used for reduction strategies.

    “I don’t know that the record supports that they guarantee a true pathway toward reductions of emissions.”

    In contrast, the roadmap has identified “highly enforceable strategies” to achieve reduction of 58 to 59 million of the 70 million tons needed by 2030, he said.

    Some actions depend upon new legislation, perhaps this year and in succeeding years.

    In the building sector, for example, the Polis administration sees “very interesting opportunities” with a bill being introduced into the legislature this year that would give gas-distribution companies targets in carbon reduction while working with their customers. See, “Colorado’s legislative climate & energy landscape.”

    “This isn’t something that we are going to solve through just this year’s legislative session and this and next year’s regulatory actions,” said Toor. He cited many potential pathways, including hydrogen, but also, beyond 2030, the potential for cost-effective carbon capture and sequestration.

    Later in the day, Pam Kiely and Thomas Bloomfield made the Environmental Defense Fund’s case for cap and trade. They described a more significant gap between known actions and the targets, a greater uncertainty about hitting the targets that they argued would best be addressed by giving power and other economic sectors allocation of allowances, which can then best be moved around to achieve reductions in cost-effective ways.

    One example of cap-and-trade actually involves Colorado. The project is at Somerset, where several funding sources were pooled to pay for harnessing of methane emissions from the Elk Creek Mine to produce electricity. The Aspen Skiing Co. paid a premium for the electricity, and Holy Cross Energy added financial incentives. But a portion of the money that has gone to the developer, Vessels Coal Gas Co., is money from California’s cap-and-trade market

    Kiely said Colorado’s 2019 law directed the Air Quality Control Commission to consider the greatest and most cost-effective emissions reductions available through program design. That, she said, was explicit authority for creating a cap-and-trade program.

    “We think it’s a relatively light (legal) lift,” said Bloomfield. “You have authority to charge for those emissions.”

    Further, Kiely said, cap-and-trade will most effectively achieve reductions in emissions and will do so faster than the state’s current approach. It will deliver a consistent economic signal and be the most adaptable. “The program does not have to predict where the optimal reduction opportunities will be a year from now without information about the relative cost of pollution control technologies, turnover rates in vehicles and other key uncertainties,” she said.

    Then the questions came in. Kiely rebutted Toor’s charge of ineffectiveness. The most telling criticism of the California program was that the price was too low, she said.

    What defeated the proposal—at least for now—were questions about its legality. Colorado’s Tabor limits revenues, and commission members were mostly of the opinion that their authority revenue-raising authority needed to be explored in depth.

    Garry Kaufman, director of the Air Pollution Control Division, said that doing the work to rev up for a cap-and-trade program would require a “massive increase in the division’s staff,” north of 40 to 50 new employees, and the division does not have state funding.

    He and others also contended that pursuing cap-and-trade would siphon work from the existing roadmap.

    Then there was the sentiment that for a program of this size, the commission really did need direct legislative authority.

    Commissioner Martha Rudolph said that in her prior position as director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, she had favored cap-and-trade. Not now, because of the legal, resource, and timing issues.

    Elise Jones, the former Boulder County commissioner, voted no, but not without stressing the need to keep the conversation going, which is what will happen in a subcommittee meeting within the next few years.

    “This is not now, not never,” said Rueter of the vote. This is conversation that will come up again, maybe at the federal level or maybe in Colorado a few years down the road.”

    2021 #COleg: #Colorado House panel debates making pumped hydro a #renewable energy source — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel (HB21-1052 Define Pumped Hydroelectricity As Renewable Energy)

    Pumped hydroelectric generation illustrated. Graphic via The Mountain Town News

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    The leading Republican in the Colorado House says it’s about time that pumped hydroelectric power plants are considered recycled energy that counts under the state’s renewable energy standard.

    One of the reasons why it isn’t already counted as a renewable energy is because, unlike conventional hydroelectric power plants, pumped hydro requires additional power to move water uphill to an upper reservoir so that it can flow downhill to a lower reservoir through a turbine to generate electricity.

    House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, told the House Energy & Environment Committee on Wednesday the technology now exists to do that either with traditional renewable energy or at least to make it all work carbon neutral…

    McKean said that most pumped hydroelectric plants don’t generate nearly as much electricity as those fossil fuel plants, but they often are used to help keep power costs to consumers down during peak usage times.

    The beauty of them is they can augment power during peak times when costs are higher, thus reducing those costs, and use less expensive electricity to pump the water back uphill during non-peak times, such as late at night, he said…

    McKean also said the pumped hydroelectric plants don’t require a lot of energy to pump that water uphill, adding that it can be done in a number of ways, including through stored power from solar, wind or rechargeable batteries.

    The measure, HB21-1052, which the committee discussed but hasn’t yet voted on, has support from several rural electric associations, the Colorado Farm Bureau and some environmental groups, such as Trout Unlimited, but only if the bill is amended to ensure guardrails are in place to protect aquatic life from being harmed, something McKean said he plans to do…

    Currently, there are only five hydroelectric pump storage stations operating in the state, all of which are located on the Front Range or Eastern Plains, according to a database maintained by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

    That agency also lists 64 conventional hydroelectric plants operating in Colorado, including many on the Western Slope.

    A 15,000-foot view of #Colorado’s legislative #climate & energy landscape — The Mountain Town News

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Incentives and some soft sticks?

    Carrots or sticks—or, more likely, what mixture? That will be among the questions as Colorado legislators sort through several dozen bills during the next few months that seek to build on the state’s ground-breaking energy and climate laws from 2019.

    Foremost among the 13 energy and climate laws of that session was H.B.19-1261, the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution. The law specified economy-wide carbon reduction targets of 26% by 2025 and 50% by 2030, with even deeper mid-century reduction.

    The 2019 session provided only a partially defined pathway to reduction. The legislative session that begins today after a month-long semi-hiatus looks to be a big, big year for expanding the tool kit and defining more explicitly the decarbonization path. Some describe it as the session that will be known for beneficial electrification.

    “We have obviously done a lot as a state when it comes to climate and energy issues in just the last two years,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg at a forum last week sponsored by Empowering Our Future. “But we all know it’s nowhere near what we need to be doing.”

    Fenberg urged the 200 energy-change advocates on the video-conferenced town hall to use the accomplishments as inspiration even though, later in the evening, he cautioned against expecting a ban on new natural gas hookups in the built environment.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at http:bigpivots.com

    One giant gain in the last two years has been the rash of announced closings of coal plants. If market forces were already aligned behind those closings, some believe Colorado’s action in 2019 hastened at least some of those announcements. The result of closing coal plants will be a dramatically decarbonized electrical supply by the end of the decade that can then be used to decarbonize other sectors, most notably transportation and the built environment.

    Legislators, of course, are facing pressures from several sides. Major utilities generally want to go slower, to maintain traditional models of profit, worried about too much disruption.

    Environmental advocates want to go faster and have a strong appetite for massive change. “I think it’s alarming to think that we didn’t get to 26% (carbon reduction, as targeted by the law two years ago) even at the height of the stay-at-home orders,” says Jan Rose, an advocate aligned with several organizations.

    Memories of wildfires, even in the coldest, sub-zero days of winter, will provide a backdrop for the session. The smoke was awful but also deadly. In Larimer County, heart attacks and other emergencies spiked during the season of smoke, which there began in mid-August with the outbreak of the Cameron Peak Fire and never completely ended until after the first snows of November.

    Drivers between Granby and Walden will encounter many scenes of hillsides where only snags remain from the 193,000-acre East Troublesome Fire in October. Water managers say the worst impacts of the fire may be felt with summer rains. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    “I think this last summer was a real wakeup call for a lot of people—and a lot of lawmakers—about what is at stake here and what it will take for us to solve this problem. I have never experienced anything like the physical and emotional turmoil we saw related to our failure so far to get our climate emissions under control,” she says.

    “I think there’s a real sense of urgency. We passed some incredible pieces of legislation in 2019, and we made some progress, but we haven’t made nearly enough.”

    Mike Kruger, chief executive of Colorado Solar and Storage Association, also points to this heightened sense of urgency. The goal of 50% decarbonization is less than 9 years away. That goal was premised on the best science available about the reductions that will be needed.

    “We can’t just bargain our way to a couple of extra years,” says Kruger. “We need to address things now.”

    State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, a Democrat from Arvada, warns against moving forward in ways that fail to have a sustainable foundation. She describes broad coalitions that define common ground. “That is what is going to make your policies have staying power. That is what will make them work,” says Zenzinger, a self-described moderate who nonetheless has notched a 100% voting record rating from Conservation Colorado during the last four years.

    Big Pivots has identified several dozen proposals likely to be introduced by legislators this week and in coming weeks. Some will be reintroductions of bills that were shelved last year because of the covid-induced shortened session, or even bills introduced repeatedly, if in variant fashion. Others will be entirely new.

    The two biggest energy and climate bills will center around transportation and building emissions.

    “This legislation session will be very focused on progress in both the built environment and transportation to ensure that we are extending the benefit of the (greening) of electricity and start making progress in other sectors that are lagging behind the power sector,” says Zach Pierce, the special climate and energy advisor to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

    Transportation has replaced electrical generation as the No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado. In his first executive order as governor in 2019 Polis specified a goal of having 940,000 electric vehicles on roads by 2030. Legislation in 2019 provided tools to advance that. But Colorado needs to hurry harder on transportation decarbonization.

    Sen. Faith Winter, a Democrat from Westminster, has not revealed details of the big bill that she is said to have been working on. The transportation bill needs to cover a lot of ground. Colorado’s funding for transportation has fallen short for many years as voters have resisted raising the gas tax (or, if you prefer, the “fee” on gasoline). Now, with electric cars starting to rapidly enter the automotive fleet, there’s a further complication about how to make them pay their way.

    As Sen. Winter was unable to make a scheduled interview for this story last Friday, my details on this bill are sketchy and second- or third-hand.

    There is no doubt that Colorado’s funding for transportation needs an overhaul. And transportation must change if Colorado is to meet its decarbonization goals built on the foundation of climate science.

    What I hear is that this bill will try to address the need for revenue from both electric vehicles, or EVs, and internal-combustion engines, or ICEs. How it will do so is unclear. One way may be through increased registration fees. Another thought is to add a fee for electricity used for charging EVs. Still another idea is to apply a road use fee, not a fuel fee. I’m unsure of the mechanics of that, although it’s been talked about for about 30 years.

    “We want a tool that keeps up with the times,” says Ariana Gonzalez, Colorado policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    NRDC wants to see legislation that looks at transportation more holistically, she says, “not penalizing people who travel a lot but providing them more options, whether it’s more fuel-efficient vehicles or more mass transit.”

    What does this mean specifically? Well, the Gonzalez interview was conducted in the first week of February, and details were sparse. Others interviewed for this story were similarly short on details except to point out that anti-tax (or fee) opponents still have powerful influence in Colorado. And Polis, in a public interview, conspicuously refrained from talking about either taxes or fees.

    Heavy traffic on I-70. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    A carbon-reduction component, however, has to be a central piece of what Winter proposes. Transportation funding identified in the bill must align with the emissions reductions the governor’s roadmap has identified, says Katie Belgard, of Conservation Colorado.

    Land use may be part of the discussion, as dispersed settlement tends to result in more transportation. It was discussed in the state’s decarbonization roadmap release in mid-January.

    State Sen. Chris Hansen, a Democrat from Denver, says the transportation bill must deliver “broad-based solutions where each part of the transportation user groups all need to be involved in the solutions.” That package must involve trucks and heavy-duty vehicles, he added.

    The Air Quality Control Commission is scheduled to take up transportation this summer as part of its rule-making to achieve decarbonization goals. You can be assured this legislative session will almost certainly produce a big pivot in transportation.

    Building emissions will be the focus of a second big bill. Buildings rank fourth in Colorado in responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. They pose an enormous challenge because the turnover rate is so terribly slow. Most of Colorado’s coal-burning plants were constructed from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s. Now, they’re rapidly being retired. But you can drive from Pueblo to Brush to Craig in a day and see them all. In contrast, Colorado has perhaps a million buildings, give or take, each with its own small power plant, mostly natural gas furnaces for space heating, gas-powered hot water heaters, and gas stoves.

    How to tamp down the combustion of natural gas? The intuitive answer might be to stop building tens of thousands more houses each year that require natural gas. That doesn’t seem to be the direction Colorado is headed, at least not soon.

    Polis favors incentives, not mandates, and that was also the language of Fenberg at the Empowering our Future session. He would not, he said, be calling for a ban on natural gas.

    “For a few reasons,” he went on to explain. “One, I am not sure the bill would pass, and if it is really about transitioning people’s homes to electricity I want a bill that passes. He also suggested that focusing solely on future buildings without considering how to retrofit existing buildings was misguided. Too, a lot of people like to cook with natural gas, even if they don’t care particularly how their homes are heated.”

    It is, he added, an item for “further policy discussion. The goal now is to get as many dollars into homes for heat pumps and other decarbonization techniques.”

    In other words, incentives, not mandates.

    For example, the Polis budget includes $40 million for clean-energy financial programs, including $30 million for green banking, and another $10 million for various other programs.

    Even so, there could be a soft mandate. One approach that was being talked about in recent weeks was a performance-based standard for natural gas utilities, a required reduction in emissions from the natural gas sold to consumers by Colorado’s four natural gas utilities, Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy, Atmos Energy, and Colorado Natural Gas. But then let the utilities figure out how to achieve this.

    Also part of the discussion are required energy efficiency upgrades, or demand-side management. Talk of a carbon tax on methane, similar to the PUC’s social cost of carbon, may have been walked back. I hear that from a good source, but I don’t know that for sure. This has been a fluid environment even in the last two weeks. “Lots of stake-holding going on,” a legislator said at a recent meeting.

    There will be themes, though. One is about equity. Legislators in 2019 made it clear that equity needed to be part of the conversations as they applied pressure to create this big pivot in Colorado’s energy foundation. Those of lower incomes, which tend to be racial minorities, need to benefit from this transition. This will be part of the conversation in regard to transportation and other bills, too.

    Energy Outreach Colorado has been monitoring the conversation about proposed bills with an interest in how well they affect energy affordability, reliability, and accessibility. “There is a lot of transition happening in the energy space, which is exciting, but that speed of transition can often leave people behind when they are not considered upfront,” says Jennifer Gremmert, executive director .

    “I think the aggressive goals the state has will require a lot of shifts in generation, transportation and buildings,” she says. “I think there are a lot of very smart people pulling together good solutions, and we’re looking forward to the process of debate and consideration.”

    Another element running through many of the energy and climate bills will be the role of evolving technologies. There’s much talk about hydrogen, for example, but also battery storage. What mix of carrots and sticks will be needed to help induce technological innovation and adoption while remaining agnostic about what the solutions look like?

    Even in the shaping of bills, the enormous clout of Colorado’s major utilities and oil-and-gas interests can be detected. Xcel Energy, for example, urged a far slower approach to building electrification, even if it will theoretically benefit by selling more electricity to replace lost gas sales. It cites various concerns, including whether the transmission can be created to deliver the renewables sufficiently fast as needed to supply both electrified transportation and electrified homes.

    On Thursday, Feb. 18, Xcel plans to disclose its electric resource plans in advance of its scheduled March 31 filing with the PUC. That could conceivably have a bearing on the legislation.

    Geographical schisms also are evident. Boulder and Weld counties share a border but preciously little else on political talking points. As both Boulder and Boulder County seek to replace natural gas in big and remodeled homes, a bill is said to be coming from a Weld County legislator that would ban any bans on natural gas.

    Some of those involved in helping shape legislation say they have been advised to trim their proposals, because of time limitations imposed by covid. Hansen, who is part of the legislative leadership team, disagrees. “I don’t think this session will be shortened very much in a functional way,” says Hansen. “All the legislative days we need will be available. This is going to be a very busy and important session. Big legislation typically passes in odd-numbered years, because it’s often harder to get the big pieces done in an election year.”

    Fenberg sees opportunity amid the many crises. “In many ways I think the crises in front of us are a massive opportunity to rethink and imagine what we want our society to look like.”

    This story attempts to be semi-comprehensive, but it has gaps of which I’m aware and likely important gaps of which I’m unaware. The conversation is fluid, so some information is likely dated. It’s a view from 15,000 or 20,000 feet, with a few clouds obscuring visibility here and there. I hope to follow the legislative session closely, as it is part of Colorado’s Big Pivot.

    East Troublesome Fire. Photo credit: Brad White via The Mountain Town News

    Wildfire is top of mind

    It’s a given that the state will have to step up its response to the prospect of wildfire. The three largest wildfires in Colorado history occurred in 2020.

    The East Troublesome Fire wasn’t the largest — that distinction belongs to the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins—but it was the scariest, racing from north of Hot Sulphur Springs to cover more than 100,000 acres within 24 hours, leaping across the Continental Divide and forcing the evacuation of Estes Park.

    That’s a California-sized fire – and more California-type fires are almost certainly headed to Colorado given the rising temperatures and the increasing propensity toward drought, both manifestations of climate change.

    “We are absolutely going to focus on wildfire mitigation,” said Senate Majority Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, at the February forum sponsored by Empowering Our Future.

    Some of this mitigation will involve funding, such as for equipment, and I didn’t dig up anything here. I did hear about two bills that relate to wildfire.

    Renewal of 2008 funding opportunity

    Bipartisan support has already been lined up for a bill that would renew a law adopted in 2008 that allows the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to issue bonds for certain projects related to what is often called forest health.

    Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango, was a state representative in 2008 who was among that original bill’s sponsors. Now out of the Legislature, she has been engaged in a project, the Southwest Wildfire Impact Fund, which seeks to use that legislation to remove vegetation from forested landscapes.

    “Dense, unhealthy forests. Increasing drought. Dead trees from insect infestations. All these factors combine to increase the public safety threat of catastrophic wildfire in populated areas of Southwest Colorado, like Durango and La Plata County,” the website says. “There are ways to remove or reduce the dangerous tinderbox of these fuels through forest health treatments and reduce catastrophic wildfire risk, but the region lacks a sufficiently funded, long-term, and coordinated approach to forest restoration on all lands, private or publicly owned.”

    After two years of trying, the project Roberts, the Colorado State Forest Service, and others envisioned in southwestern Colorado together still hasn’t launched and only the first phase of the project will get done before the authority for bonding by the state’s water and power authority expires. The second phase of the project may be getting started post-2023, she says.

    “It’s tricky,” she says of the project. “It involves local government financing. It involves finding the collaborative pieces between federal and non-federal lands, identifying areas of high risks in watersheds, identifying critical values, public safety, and natural environmental concerns. It’s very complicated, and it takes a lot of collaboration.”

    But the project, she says, should serve as a template for those in other places, as reflected in the districts of the bill’s primary co-sponsors: Rep. Marc Catlin, a Republican from Montrose, and Rep. Jeni Arndt, a Democrat from Fort Collins, whose district experienced two big wildfires in 2021.

    In the other chamber, Sen. John Cooke, a Republican from Greeley, and Sen. Chris Hansen, a Democrat from Denver, are also sponsors. Their districts include two major water providers, Denver Water and Northern Water.

    If not a lobbyist herself, Roberts talks up the bill as resulting in rural job generation but also improved public safety, in that it will reduce the fuels for wildfire. It will also have a climate change component: younger forests absorb carbon, and wildfires create massive amounts of carbon dioxide emission.

    “Fire is part of our ecosystems. We aren’t trying to eliminate fire. But we are trying to manage it in a world in which more and more people are moving into the forests of Colorado. So we need to think about it differently. This bill aims at projects that are thinking outside of the box but also dealing with the reality on the ground in terms of needing to think about the forests in areas of high risk.”

    Wildfire, power lines

    Utilities, already nervous about their liability if power lines start wildfires, were galvanized by the Camp Fire at Paradise, Calif. The fire in November 2018 caused by electrical wires in strong winds resulted in 85 deaths and $16.5 billion in damages and the bankruptcy of Pacific Gas and Electric.

    The Colorado Rural Electric Association hopes to see a bill that would give the state’s 22 electrical cooperatives protection from liability if they undertake mitigation efforts. The essential problem is that rights-of-way for distribution lines often were negotiated 30, 40, or even 60 years ago, says Geoffrey Hier, director for government relations for CREA.

    “That may have been adequate at the time, but it is no longer adequate,” says Hier. “You have property owners who aren’t necessarily excited about having a utility come in and chop down trees on their property.”

    The proposal being shopped to legislators by Heir would give utilities permission to clear trees in 16-foot swathes along power lines, 8 feet on each side. “Under current law, we don’t have the ability to address that,” says Hier. “We need some way to address the identified hazards that fall outside of our rights-of-way in addition to maintaining the right of way.”

    The carrot-and-stick approach favored by CREA, modeled on legislation adopted last year by Utah and Missouri, would require the co-ops to submit their mitigation plans to the Public Utilities Commission. In exchange, the co-ops would get shielded from some liability if they filed plans and adhered to their mitigation plans.

    Most wildfires of 2020 in Colorado occurred in the service territory of utilities, although none of the fires were caused by wires. However, managers have fretted privately about how even a small fire in the wrong place among very expensive real estate could expose them to enormous liability that could potentially bankrupt the co-op.

    Utilities see a huge need for vegetative mitigation that the $88 million proposed for allocation in the state budget will hardly touch. Too, while last year was the largest ever in Colorado in terms of acres burned, this year is already shaping up to be much, much worse, given the absence of snowfall.

    For background, read Utilities and Wildfire.

    Using Colorado purchasing power

    If not the size of the federal government, Colorado’s state government has considerable weight through the simple fact of its purchasing power. Some environmental groups have been saying that Colorado needs to use that purchasing power to help shift the markets.

    One easy example is in transportation. There, Colorado hopes to move the needle more rapidly toward electrification by getting fleet owners to convert. Colorado, the argument goes, can help move the market itself through fleet purchases of electrified vehicles.

    Just Transition funding

    Legislators in 2019 created a Just Transition office, with one staff member, and a mission to deliver a final report to legislators by Dec. 31, 2020.

    The office still has one employee, Wade Buchanan, the director. But the Polis budget calls for two additional full-time equivalents positions, for a total of 3.5.

    “It’s just a down payment. It’s not the money we will need for the programming and for the funding of communities,” says Zach Pierce, special advisor on climate and energy to Gov. Jared Polis. “In a difficult budget year, it’s a statement.”

    Various ideas are being talked about among legislators, even if there is no specific legislation (of which I’m aware).

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Time to slow emissions from the built environment

    There will be a tremendous focus on the built environment, that attention being long overdue, in the minds of many environmental advocates.

    The built environmental is No.4 on the list of emission sources in Colorado, behind transportation, electrical generation, and the oil and gas sector. The problem is that to achieve long-term goals of decarbonization will require a broad and deep effort. And unlike cars, which get swapped out every 10 or 15 years, buildings last for decades and, in the case of the house of this writer, well along on the second century (constructed 1889, and later expanded).

    What you can expect, said Keith Hay, director of utility policy at the Colorado Energy Office, are proposals that fall into four buckets:

    1) Modernizing and updating gas energy efficiency programs, which have not been updated since 2007. This would apply to the gas-regulated utilities: Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy, Atmos Energy, and Colorado Natural Gas.

    2) A requirement that the state’s two investor-owned electrical utilities, Xcel and Black Hills, file plans with the PUC to support beneficial electrification, similar to what was required of Xcel and Black Hills for transportation, but this time for gas. Again, the idea is of incentives but softly pressing down the carbon intensity of the building sector.

    3) A renewable natural gas bill proposed by State Sen. Chris Hansen in 2020 that got shelved because of covid.

    4) Benchmarking of buildings.

    Gas demand-side management

    Most buildings in Colorado are heated by combustion of natural gas. A bill being sponsored by Rep. Tracey Bernett, Democrat from Boulder County, would require utilities to expand their energy efficiency efforts, hence reducing demand. She plans to promote it as a jobs-creation proposal, but also one that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.

    “It’s not shutting down gas,” she said when we talked in early February. “We are still going to need gas for a while in our buildings, especially in this colder environment. Things like heat pumps don’t necessarily work well at low temperatures.”

    At the time of the conversation, she said the bill would include an “accounting for the external economic costs of burning fossil fuels.” I’ve since heard that this component—essentially a carbon tax applied to methane—has been stripped from the proposal.

    So, we’ll see when the bill gets introduced. It’s worth reviewing the thinking of Laurent Meillon of the policy committee of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society. For more than a decade, he has been working with legislators with the hope of passing legislation that causes state regulators to review demand-side management programs through the lens of long-term gains.

    It’s worth emphasizing: What he wants to see and what ends up in the bill may be two very different things.

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    One metric that Meillon wants Colorado to adopt for evaluating demand-side management programs is how capital is treated. “$100 ten years from now is not the same as $100 now,” he explains.

    We all know that’s true. That’s why we invest money, instead of just putting it into shoeboxes or at least safe-deposit boxes.

    In the case of adding insulation to an attic, though, the investment is viewed through the metric of whether the benefits outweigh the costs in the short term. Will the added insulation save money in the next two or three years?

    Viewed through that short-term prism, only the lowest-hanging fruit will be seized. You will add only the minimal amount of insulation. However, if you took a long view, the amount of energy that would be saved and hence the lower cost to the consumer of the course of 30, 40 or 50 years, would be a greater cumulative return on the investment.

    Benefits are less when evaluating energy efficiency programs using the weighted average cost of capital, as is now used by Xcel and regulators. If, however, regulators used something called net-present value—a way of viewing the long-term benefits—much more work in energy efficiency could be justified.

    The existing system “has turned out to be unfair, inaccurate, and against clean energy and ratepayer interests,” says Meillon.

    Then there’s the metric of the external costs of fossil fuels. We know that burning fossil fuels damages the environment and imposes costs even now on people, directly and indirectly. Colorado in the 2019 legislative session recognized this by imposing a social cost of carbon of $46 per metric ton of emissions through which state regulators evaluate generation plans by Xcel and other utilities. Meillon believes the same social cost of carbon should be applied to heating resources when decisions are made.

    A decade ago, Meillon was working with then State Sen. Gail Schwartz with this same sweep of ideas. Last year he worked with former State Sen. Mike Foote.

    He’s a solar developer with a giant interest in solar thermal. Solar thermal got a bad name in the 1970s when it was introduced – and performed badly. Since then, says Meillon, solar thermal has improved and should be taken seriously. “My first car was a Fiat, and it didn’t work so well, but I did not conclude that all automobiles are crap,” he says.

    Solar thermal has continued to struggle to get traction. The renewable portfolio standards first adopted in 2004 and updated several times since have not provided for solar thermal. They provide credits only for production of electricity. As such, there is no financial incentive for creating solar thermal projects. Without that stimulus, solar thermal has struggled to compete against the low cost of natural gas in Colorado.

    If slowly, solar thermal is making inroads. One such project is a 44-unit all-electric apartment complex in Longmont. The hot water is pre-warmed by solar.

    Photo via Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Building benchmarking

    This is one of the four pillars of the energy legislation described by Hay from the Colorado Energy Office. It would require owners of commercial buildings of more than 50,000 square (actually, there is at least one residential building of more than 50,000 square feet; it’s on the outskirts of Aspen) to collect and report on energy-use benchmarking data and comply with performance standards related to energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

    Denver has such a law applicable to buildings of more than 25,000 square feet. It requires tracking of energy use and sharing of that information. It serves as a way of alerting building managers to problems. If they’re using far more energy than the owner of another comparably sized building, it will likely cause them to want to make changes.

    This bill has the sponsorship of Representatives Cathy Kipp of Fort Collins, Alex Valdez of Denver, and Tracey Bernett of Boulder County.

    The city’s Climate Action website reports that buildings caused 51% of Denver’s emissions. Buildings overall increased energy use 1.2% on average since 2016, but those in the benchmarking program cut use an average 0.4%. This compared to a goal of reducing energy use from buildings 30% by 2030.

    The Polis administration decarbonization roadmap reports that the Colorado Energy Office is launching a commercial building benchmarking program that will enable building owners to report energy-use data to a state-wide database.

    GHGs embedded in building materials

    Look for a bill from Hansen along the same lines as last year’s SB20-159, Global Warming Potential for Public Project Materials. That bill proposed to establish a maximum acceptable global warming amount embodied in concrete, asphalt, and other materials used in public buildings. Concrete has a heavy carbon footprint, for example. This would require designers of state buildings to consider the emissions produced in the creation of those materials and would impose a lid on those emissions.

    Dairy cattle Morgan County. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Renewable natural gas

    Hansen last session sponsored SB20-1250, Adopt Renewable Natural Gas Standard, which would have required the PUC to create a renewable natural gas standard for large natural gas utilities, those of more than 250,000 customers.

    The intent is to induce harvesting of methane from dairies, sewage treatment plants, and landfills, but also at least one coal mine near Somerset in the North Fork Valley.

    The bill proposed to mandate Xcel Energy to use 5% renewable natural gas by 2025 and 15% within a decade. The bill also would have required the PUC to develop renewable natural gas programs for smaller utilities and require municipal utilities to report emissions from natural gas.

    Expect to see that bill return this session. The bill will specify a maximum impact to ratepayers of 2% from the projects.

    Environmental groups have been somewhat skeptical. The Colorado Renewable Energy Society policy committee, for example, frets that this may delay the transition from natural gas. Hansen says he has heard concerns about double-counting but indicates that shouldn’t be a problem.

    See March 2020 story, “Colorado legislators take up proposals for renewable natural gas standard.”

    Transportation?

    As mentioned previously, I have only glimpses of what this bill will look like, at least in part because it was still being shaped up well into February. It will be big.

    “We are very hopeful a large transportation bill comes out of this session,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg last week.

    He identified the need for multi-modal transit, as well as electrification of transportation. The upshot is that transportation should look very different in just a few years.

    Electrical co-ops governance

    State Rep. Judy Amabile, a Democrat from Boulder who was elected to fill the seat vacated by term-limited K.C. Becker, the former speaker of the House, has a bill that would seek to reform the governance of Colorado’s 22 electrical cooperatives

    Those co-ops serve 30% of electrical consumers in Colorado, and their functioning is often a mystery to those who live in co-op land.

    (An aside, I lived in co-op land myself for 21 years, first in Mountain Parks and then Holy Cross Energy, with time spent in Yampa Valley Electric as well, working mostly as a newspaper reporter and editor. I can testify that the co-op business was very, very low profile. It has a higher profile now, but not among the general public. Election turnout remains far lower than for the town board, city council, and county commission elections).

    Amabile, whose district expands beyond Boulder to include Grand, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties, all areas served by co-ops, says her bill would address transparency, would require disclosure of compensation, and make it easier for new members of the public to get elected to the boards of electrical cooperatives. This would, she says, also apply to Tri-State—of which 18 of Colorado’s 22 cooperatives are members. (Tri-State, however, also includes members from Wyoming, Nebraska, and New Mexico).

    “No other state has the kind of legislation that we are proposing, but they are looking to us so that they can do something similar,” she said at an Empower Our Future forum on Feb. 11, 2021.

    Volunteers help to construct the solar system at a low-income, rental-housing subdivision in La Plata County. Photo/LPEA

    Solar and some tweaking

    Expect several bills in the solar arena.

    Revisiting permitting fees

    Several years ago Colorado adopted a law that limited how much local jurisdictions can charge for solar permitting such as on rooftops and garages. The goal was to encourage roof-top and other solar development.

    Members of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association say that many jurisdictions have figured out ways that avoid the spirit of that law. COSSA wants to see legislation that keeps local jurisdictions hewing to the spirit and avoid end-around fees and restrictions.

    Lift the 120% cap?

    Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, will introduce a bill that would remove the current cap on how much solar capacity customers of Xcel Energy and Black Hills can produce.

    Existing law allows residential customers of the investor-owned utilities to get credited for solar-photovoltaic capacity up to 120% of the annual consumption of electricity by the customer. Xcel and Black Hills must credit them with the retail rate, not the wholesale rate, which is far less.

    At issue is whether the customers should be able to get greater credit for more than 120%—how much and also how?

    Fenberg explains: “The pushback from the utilities on this topic is generally that they don’t want to pay the customer for the energy that is produced above and beyond what the customer uses himself.

    “Currently the utility has to pay at the wholesale rate for that excess energy, and they’d like to keep it that way rather than paying at the retail rate. Some would argue that compensating at the wholesale rate is unfair because distributed solar has more value due to the avoided generation and transmission costs as well as avoided environmental externalities.

    “However, with that said, the compensation rate isn’t actually the crux of the issue. Their main demand is that customers shouldn’t be able to roll over their excess generation credits at the end of the year. Instead, the utility wants to force the customer to take a check for those excess credits (at the wholesale rate). Currently customers can roll over credits, but the utility fears this will be a bigger threat to them if people are allowed to install larger systems on their roof.”

    Colorado Solar and Storage Association members say this issue of exceeding 120% hasn’t been much of an issue. True, concedes Fenberg, but he sees need for even more distributed solar in the future.

    “If we’re trying to rapidly electrify people’s homes and their cars, we need to lift this arbitrary cap. Installing a solar system based on your last year’s average electricity use isn’t a relevant cap once that homeowner buys an electric car and an electric heat pump,” Fenberg says.

    “Due to economies of scale, it’s much better for that homeowner to build the system based on likely future electricity use rather than past electricity use. Part of the state’s path to reduce emissions is to electrify home heating and transportation, which means the average home will have a much larger electricity load in the future. And if we want to decarbonize that increased electric load, we want more roof-space covered by solar panels.

    “Another aspect to this story is the recent Boulder/Xcel settlement. Xcel agreed to advocate for the lifting of the 120% cap in the Legislature this year as part of the settlement.”

    Also operative, as he said at a recent forum, is that the utilities are in the business of selling electricity. “They don’t want to have to buy energy from you,” he said.

    Battery storage project United Power. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Policies to drive equitable expansion of storage

    Colorado remains in the infancy of energy storage. Aside from pumped-storage hydro at Cabin Creek and Mt. Elbert, the largest energy storage system in the state is a bank of Tesla Powerwall batteries behind the United Power building along Interstate 25 between Longmont and Firestone. They can store 4 megawatts for up to 4 hours.

    Behind the meter, the battery capacity isn’t much greater. Xcel Energy customers have 300 to 400 batteries in the Central Park neighborhood of Denver. Customers of Holy Cross Energy in the Aspen-Vail areas have more batteries, and there may be more scattered around Colorado, particularly in Boulder County.

    That must change dramatically in the coming decade. As Colorado quadruples the penetration of renewable energy, it will need to increase storage capacity roughly 250-fold. “The Future of Energy Storage in Colorado,” a report commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office in 2019, called for 1.1 gigawatts of storage by 2030.

    “We have a long way to go, and the longer we wait, the steeper the hill to climb,” says Mike Kruger, chief executive of Colorado Solar and Storage Association.

    PUC guidance on storage

    COSSA wants legislators to give the Public Utilities Commission specific guidance about phasing in storage.

    In the past, says Kruger, the PUC has been leery of justifying storage, given its still great cost. That’s understandable. But battery storage provides benefits to the grid, such as in stabilization, that need to factored into the decision-making calculus. COSSA wants legislators to help inform that decision-making process.

    Kruger points to a report issued in September 2020, “The Colorado Public Utilities Commission’s Operational Modernization Plan.” The document points to the need for a formal, coherent policy. Options for reducing greenhouse gases from the electric sector “can appear across many proceedings, and a determination in one proceeding may affect the outcome of another proceeding,” the report said.

    The report cites the example of battery storage, with its potential to reduce the need for additional electric generation to meet system peak demand: “At the same time, the PUC may be called upon to make decisions regarding investments in battery storage technologies in multiple proceedings that may involve different regulated utilities that occur over a period of months or years.”

    Utilities are already starting to invest in batteries. Xcel Energy has awarded bids for 50 megawatts, part of its plans for 275 megawatts in Pueblo and Adams counties. And Colorado Springs Utilities has a power-purchase agreement for the Pike Solar and Battery Energy Storage Systems, which will add 25 megawatts of battery storage by December 2023 to supplement 175 megawatts of solar.

    This bill falls under the heading of unfinished business. In 2018, legislators passed a law, HB 18-1270, Public Utilities Commission Evaluation of Energy Storage Systems. The law required the PUC to establish mechanisms for investor-owned electric utilities to procure energy storage systems if certain criteria are satisfied.

    COSSA members believe there has been too little movement. Details of exactly what will be proposed were still being worked over in stakeholder outreach in late January. What drives the legislation, though, is a sense of urgency, a desire to make things happen quickly, to decarbonize the economy 50% by 2030.

    “We have 8 years and 11 months. We can’t have proceedings in which the stakeholder process takes years before we even get to a proposal. We have to move faster,” says Kruger.

    Rules for behind-the-meter storage

    Colorado Solar and Storage Association wants to see rules laid down for behind-the-meter storage. It’s still a frontier, when relatively few homes or buildings have battery storage.

    Working with the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Inc., COSSA hopes to come up with state regulations to ensure the spirit of legislation is honored by counties and municipalities. “If the Legislature says it should be $500,” says Kruger of fees. “That means it shouldn’t be $500 plus X, Y and Z.”

    Somewhat related in the battery question is where they will be deployed. Will battery storage remain the province of higher-end homes, or will batteries also be part of the lower-income neighborhoods, too?

    Colorado legislators in 2019 inserted provisions in several laws designed to ensure that equity is a consideration in energy transition decisions. In the past, those of lower incomes, who tend to be racial minorities, have tended to suffer disproportionate impacts of the fossil fuel-based economy. The intent is to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Battery storage is one place for this consideration.

    COSSA would like to see legislators give the PUC guidance to ensure that equity is a consideration in battery storage programs.

    Office of Consumer Counsel

    As required by state law, the Office of Consumer Counsel must be reauthorized by statute in this session, if it is to continue to exist.

    In 2019, legislators chose to reauthorize the PUC by substantially expanding its purview and mission. It’s possible legislators may do so this year with the Office of Consumer Council. For example, legislators could give much more direction in advocacy for low-income populations in the coming energy transition.

    Transmission lines southeast of Denver. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Electrical transmission, one of the big missing pieces

    This is the bailiwick of State Sen. Chris Hansen, a Democrat from Denver who grew up amid the steady winds of the Great Plains before going off to college and eventually getting a Ph.D. in economic geography from Oxford University

    In a sense, he’ll return to his roots this session with three bills that in various ways would help advance development of wind resources in eastern Colorado. But all three components of the bill he has prepared have the word “regional” embedded or implied in their text

    Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg calls transmission “one of the missing pieces of getting renewables to customers, especially from areas that are traditionally under-represented and don’t have a lot of economic opportunities.”

    Streamline PUC permitting

    One component would streamline permitting and rules at the state’s Public Utility Commission for new transmission projects. Regulators, Hansen says, need to acknowledge regional benefits when evaluating projects. The bill is a revision of Hansen’s bill from last year, SB20-190, Boost Renewable Energy Transmission Investment.

    Transmission authority

    A second component would create a transmission authority, which New Mexico already has. The transmission authority’s mission would be to help coordinate development of transmission needed to develop currently stranded renewable assets.

    One such area is Bent County, in southeastern Colorado. Studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have found that this county snuggled against the Kansas and Oklahoma borders has some of the steadiest wind in the country. Trucks constantly cross the county on Highway 287 on their way to Denver and other destinations, but no such wire highway exists to get wind-generated electricity from farms to urban markets.

    See, “Windy enough in Dust Bowl land.”

    Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission both operate in eastern Colorado, and both have built transmission lines and have plans for upgrade. But the movement has been slower than what Hansen says Colorado needs to execute its energy transformation.

    Hansen believes he has a strong argument because there’s something in it for everybody, but especially consumers. Accessing the renewable resources in the state will result in lower rates. Improved transmission should also result in more jobs. “We need to maximize job growth and clean energy, and that is dependent on a robust transmission grid,” he says.

    Pushing an RTO

    A third component would seek to accelerate integration of Colorado utilities with utilities in other states. Colorado is currently something of an island. It’s connected by electric lines to other states, but not particularly well. There’s been talk and study for four years or more. All utilities say they want this, but action has been lagging. Hansen wants to hurry this along.

    The first modest step occurred on Feb. 1 with launch of the energy imbalance market by the Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool. Colorado participants include Tri-State Generation and Transmission and the Western Area Power Authority. Xcel Energy and three utility partners along the Front Range will begin an imbalance market next year, but that one is conducted by the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO.

    The real prize will be creation of a regional transmission organization or RTO, with more tools (and investment) to allow better movement of electrons across broad distances to align with demands. For a deeper dive, see Feb. 12 story, “Why this electric market matters for Colorado decarbonization.”

    Hansen professes to see advantages whether going eastward or westward. He does, however, see Colorado’s wind resources contouring wonderfully with the solar resources of Arizona and other Southwestern states

    “My observation is that every power operator in the state is supportive of more grid integration, but some are more excited about it than others,” he says

    Describing it as a “slam-dunk economic case,” Hansen says he does not expect substantial opposition. A Republican legislator, whom he has not identified, will co-sponsor the bill

    This integration must be pushed firmly, he says. If Colorado does end up with what is called a seam, a division within the state, with parts going east and some parts going west., then it must be done in a way that does not harm ratepayers. Examples of both success and failure when seams divide states or regions can be found in other parts of the country.

    Changes to give the PUC commissioners more tools

    Look for a bill from Sen. Chris Hansen that will seek to modernize the Public Utilities Commission and revise budgeting, giving commissioners more resources and more direct control over staff members.

    “We have a PUC that is not well positioned to implement all of the important work that is ahead of us. (The commissioners) need better resources to do their work,” says Hansen.

    The PUC is currently embedded within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, and the staff members are answerable to the department director, Doug Dean. Hansen’s legislation would make the staff members, at least some of them, directly answerable to PUC commissioners. The bill would also expand the staff to reflect the increasing workload of PUC commissioners in a time of unprecedented shifts in the world of electricity and, quite likely in the decade ahead, natural gas.

    The move has the support of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association. Mike Kruger, the executive director of COSSA, says there needs to be a direct link between the staff member and commissioners given that the commissioners are “responsible for a huge chunk of our decarbonization.”

    Kruger also points out to the statutory ban of commissioners meeting in private. All of their interaction is in public meetings. Aside from very specific and narrow proceedings, they meet only weekly. That limited meeting schedule can result in three weeks or a month to make a relatively simple decision about forward movement.

    “Given that complication, you definitely need to have a staff that provides the commissioners what they need to make decisions,” Kruger says. “From our perspective, the 2020s will be the decade of deployment for solar and batteries. We will go from around 20% renewable generation to around 80%, a four-fold increase over 9 years. And the PUC is going to guide and direct that. They need to know they are getting the best information and results from their staff.”

    PUC processes have often been drawn out. But there’s a sense of urgency about figuring out the way forward reflected in the admonishment by Eric Blank in his first weekly meeting in January as the PUC chairman. Studies can’t take a year or more, he said, but timelines demand a quicker pulse.

    Another shot at Community Choice Energy

    Rep. Edie Hooton, a Democrat from Boulder, will return this session with her proposal to study community choice energy, also known as community choice aggregation.

    The goal of community choice is to accelerate the transition to clean electrical generation by allowing individual communities currently served by Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, the state’s two investor-owned utilities, to procure their electricity directly from providers. Those two utilities would still service the distribution lines. Together, Xcel and Black Hills were responsible for 56% of electrical sales in Colorado in 2018, according to a study by the Colorado Energy Office

    “Introducing competition into the wholesale electricity sector would encourage a more vibrant wholesale electricity market in Colorado, from which many co-ops and municipal utilities purchase all or part of their electricity,” she writes. “Competition tends to put downward pressure on prices, as well as pressure to increase the renewable energy content in the energy mix.

    Hooton also sees this helping other electrical consumers. A more vibrant wholesale market for clean energy “would likely expand the number of independent power producers and power marketers that are active in Colorado, leading to lower wholesale prices and more opportunities for all buyers, including co-ops and municipal utilities.”

    The Colorado Municipal League supports the study, as does the Sierra Club, whose “ready for 100” yielded voluntary participation by 14 Colorado communities that formally want to achieve 100% renewable energy between 2025 and 2035. The measure is also supported by Colorado Communities for Climate Action, or CC4CA, which has 34 member communities in Colorado, evenly split between the Front Range and Western Slope. City councils for Denver, Pueblo, Boulder, Golden, and Lafayette have also adopted resolutions of support.

    California is the poster child for the effectiveness of pushing clean electrical generation. There, communities authorized to use community choice have entered into long-term contracts for 6,000 megawatts of new-build clean energy sources. There, it’s common for multiple cities and/or counties to form joint power authorities to share administration and combine their purchasing power, governed by a board of elected officials from each member jurisdiction.

    A study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation found that nearly 50 communities in California have already reached their 100% renewable energy goals, and the vast majority of them have community choice.

    In theory, communities could choose to procure electricity from 100% carbon sources. That’s unlikely, given that renewables have become so much cheaper.

    Hooton’s bill— which is co-sponsored by Rep. Cathy Kipp, a Democrat from Fort Collins—would only authorize a study by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission staff between October 2021 and November 2022. The bill authorizes one full-time employee to the study, the money $112,000 spread across two years – to be taken from the Fixed Utility Fund, the surcharge on ratepayer bills that funds the PUC.

    If the PUC study looked promising, says Hooton, she would consider sponsoring enabling legislation in the 2023 legislation session. This bill, she emphasizes, only authorizes a study.

    Inherent in this study is the potential for gains. She points to a request from Boulder last year for indicative pricing from wholesale suppliers. The city in August received 11 responses that together indicated the city could have 89% renewable energy in 2024 at two-thirds the project cost of Xcel.

    She also contends this would add pressure to form a regional transmission organization, or RTO, which would lower costs by expanding the footprint of energy trading in the West and by reducing the needed level of reserve generating capacity.

    One thing the study—if approved by legislators—would have to address is what real difference this will make in the latter half of the 2020s, when Black Hills and Xcel are rapidly decarbonizing their electric supplies.

    Hayden Station. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    What about the Air Quality Control Commission?

    This was the agency delegated by the 2019 foundational legislation with the largest single authority for devising and executing strategies for achieving the economy-wide decarbonization goals. Elements were also given to the Public Utilities Commission, with it authority for overseeing the decarbonization of the electrical sector and also regulated gas utilities. But the AQCC is numero uno, dai-ichi, number 1.

    Does the AQCC have the resources it needs to get the job done? This was a thread in AQCC conversations for much of 2020. Environmental organizations, Western Resource Advocates and the Environmental Defense Fund in particular, argued that the AQCC was moving too slowly. The AQCC personnel, particularly John Putnam, the then-director of environmental programs for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, politely pointed to lack of adequate resources.

    I heard that legislators are working to secure more resources for the Air Pollution Control Division, the agency within CDPH&E that works directly with the appointed commission. I was told that Sen. Dominique Jackson was writing the bill. I did not get a response from her.

    The question of the AQCC was raised more broadly at the Empowering our Future forum. Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg took the question and addressed it broadly, if not in the particulars.

    “We got a slow start,” he said. “I think it will accelerate. We are going to start taking a significant bite of the apple in the next few years, tackling our transportation system. And electrifying as much as possible will have a huge impact. Xcel Energy is just about to file their electric resource plan (update: Xcel will release details on Thursday, Feb. 18) that will show there is a lot more of where they think they are capable of going in the next couple of years. Things are happening, and they’re happening pretty fast.”

    Among the questions before the AQCC in late 2021 will be whether to approve the request for Earthjustice and the National Parks Conservation Association to order to effect the earlier retirement of coal plants. All but two are scheduled to close by 2030, but the environmental organizations wanted the AQCC to nudge the retirements up a year, to 2028. The AQCC approved that by a 5-2 vote then, the next month, unanimously backtracked for legal procedural reasons, whose intricacies I never understood. Xcel Energy then preempted this by announcing the closure of the Hayden units in 2028.

    Could the PUC have the authority to instead order earlier retirements? That was hinted at by State Rep. Edie Hooton, who spoke at the Empowering Our Future forum about adjusting retirements to meet the 2025 decarbonization target of 2026. “There was consideration,” she said. “I don’t know if it will happen this year, not because of will, but because of capacity,” she said.

    Divestment policies

    Rep. Emily Sirota, a Democrat from Denver, will be carrying legislation again, as she did with her HB 19-1270, to require the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association to review its $45 billion in holdings through the lens of climate change, specifically fossil fuels.

    That bill didn’t make it out of committee. Since then, however, New York state’s comparable fund dido go ahead with a gradual divestment strategy in December.

    350 Colorado also hopes to find a sponsor for a bill that would allow cities, counties, and other jurisdictions to hold investments in financial institutions that are not FDIC insure. This would allow jurisdictions to avoid the megabanks like Wells Fargo and Chase Morgan, who are FDIC insured and who also invest in fossil fuels.

    The Colorado Public Banking Coalition makes no mention of divestment but instead paints a broader picture of rising interest in public banking since the 2008 financial crash. “Currently, over half of the states in the United States have either organized, conducted research, or introduced legislation to promote public banking,” says the coalition.

    Tanks from Masters area. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Regulation of oil and gas industry, don’t expect much

    Don’t look for much here. Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg was a primary sponsor of SB19-181, which he describes as the most substantial reform of oil and gas regulation in Colorado in 60 years.

    “I think we forget how much that did tackle, because it did so much at once,” he says. The law basically turned Colorado regulation upside down, inverting the mission of regulation to support extraction to instead emphasize community protection values.

    It created basic standards for jurisdictions across Colorado, including a minimum setback of 2,000 feet (with some exceptions), while leaving latitude for local jurisdictions to create regulations that are right for them.

    What about stopping “fracking?” he was asked at a recent forum, the word fracking being apparently meant to mean drilling for oil and gas altogether.

    No, that wasn’t the intention of the 2019 law, he said. And what used to be considered the major players in Colorado have disappeared as a result of acquisitions and mergers. “I think the Wild West days of fracking in Colorado are not over, but they will be soon,” he said. He also noted that the market for Colorado oil and gas extends beyond Colorado, so the demand depends upon national policies.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at http://bigpivots.com

    2021 #COleg update

    State Capitol May 12, 2018 via Aspen Journalism

    From Center Square (Robert Davis) via The Kiowa County Press:

    Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol to complete the 2021 legislative session on Tuesday after a month-long hiatus…

    Wildfire Funding

    A bill seeks to transfer money from the state’s general fund to wildfire mitigation efforts. The legislation, which has bipartisan sponsorship, would allocate $6 million to a grant program for forest restoration and wildfire mitigation, $3 million to a wildfire preparedness fund, and $4 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Construction Fund.

    Wildfire mitigation will be a key topic throughout the legislative session, as the state was hit with historic wildfires last year amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

    Water enterprise

    Senate Bill 21-034, introduced by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, would create an enterprise fund with fees paid by consumers. The revenue generated by the enterprise would go towards grants or loans for water providers in the state.

    “The fee for each individual metered connection in a drinking water supplier’s public water system is 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of drinking water delivered per month in excess of the first 4,000 gallons of drinking water delivered in that month to the individual metered connection,” according to the bill’s description.

    From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Dylan Anderson):

    Another proposition that passed in November will reestablish wolves on the Western Slope, though they are already coming in naturally. Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, said Colorado Parks and Wildlife is studying how best to manage wolves, and legislators need to wait for them to come up with a proposal.

    Donovan said the state needs to create a compensation program that is well-funded for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves but also need to reestablish wolves in a way that is good for the species.

    While he does not have a bill on water right now, Roberts said there is a committee studying how rules could be strengthened to prevent out-of-state entities from making money off of water resources.

    Donovan added that demand management of water is another really important issue, because the state has a legal obligation to share water. What could happen if they are not careful, she warned, is that water rights could become their own market where out-of-state interests start buying up these rights to sell them when water becomes more scarce.

    “As well as our Republican colleagues, we are all very tightly aligned on this topic,” Donovan said. “One of the most closely aligned things when party absolutely disappears is when we talk about water.”

    Southwest #Colorado livestock meeting addresses grazing, wolves — The #Cortez Journal

    Montezuma Valley

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    As snow and rain fell outside, about 50 audience members gathered at the indoor arena of the Montezuma County Fairgrounds for the morning meeting session to hear presentations, some broadcast via Zoom…

    State House bills

    Republican Marc Catlin, state representative for the 58th District, listed some bills he plans to introduce.

    A watershed mitigation bill proposes to provide funding for cities and counties for timber thinning projects on private land. A water rights bill would protect the water rights of mutual ditch companies. Another bill would allow tribes to operate their own foster homes so Native American foster children could grow up in their culture. Catlin said a bill providing a tax exemption for the removal of beetle-killed trees in forests would be an incentive to remove the fire-prone dead trees.

    39th Annual Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Show recap — The Valley Courier #RioGrande

    Artesian well Dutton Ranch, Alamosa 1909 via the Crestone Eagle

    From The Valley Courier (Patrick Shea):

    For two hours, a cascade of Zoom presenters on the final day of the 39th Annual Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference and Trade Show explained different aspects of the San Luis Valley water situation.

    Thursday’s, Feb. 4, updates included historical data and projected forecasts, but water users on the call also heard about pressing deadlines. The 2015 Ground Water Use Rules fully take effect on March 15. Some well owners, for example, may not realize how new regulations will affect them this spring…

    The program manager for Subdistricts 2, 3 and 6, Pacheco has already been absorbing some of Simpson’s duties since he won the Colorado State Senate District 35 seat. She presented his legislative update while he attended committee meetings in Denver. According to Pacheco, draft legislation called the “30 by 30 Resolution to Save Nature” sets a goal of measuring meaningful improvements in conservation across the country before 2030.

    Pacheco said she was “not familiar with the legislation, so I can’t answer many questions. But looking over a short summary, it looks like there may be some potential economic opportunities for producers in the Valley who are looking to participate in conservation efforts.”

    Pacheco mentioned retiring wells, planting cover crops and conducting soil projects as examples of these efforts, “just to name a few.”

    Before moving on to updates for Subdistricts 2, 3 and 6, Pacheco encouraged participants to contact the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council Director Christine Canaly for legislative details — 719-589-1518 or info@slvec.org.

    In April, Subdistricts 2 and 3 will complete the second year of Annual Replacement Plans (ARPs). “So far,” Pacheco said, “we’ve successfully replaced all stream depletions to all river systems as required under our plans.” Pacheco added that Subdistrict 6 is currently in its first year, and “they have successfully replaced all their depletions to date.”

    Subdistricts 3 and 6 operate with sustainability requirements defined in the 2015 Ground Water Use Rules. They are currently within 78% of requirements and look sustainable for a while, although continued drought conditions may threaten the 22% cushion.

    Pacheco closed by addressing water users in Subdistricts 2, 3 and 6 who received letters from DWR regarding commercial non-exempt well uses. If they want to become a subdistrict member, they need to contact Pacheco immediately. The customary deadline for receiving subdistrict applications is the first of December for the following year. But the DWR letters mailed in January.

    The contract deadline for Subdistricts 4 and 5 is Feb. 15. Although they are no longer soliciting new members, they’re looking for wet water sources on San Luis Creek and Saguache Creeks. They are also seeking Well Injury Payments (WIPs or “forbearance”) on Kerber Creek and Crestone Creek. Partial and full-year Annual Replacement Plans are due. Plans covering March 15 to April 30 are due on March 1, and the annual plan starting in May is due April 15.

    The same deadlines apply to Subdistrict 1 water users, according to Program Manager Marisa Fricke. Fricke celebrated 2020, the year with the highest enrollment in subdistrict history. Of the 399 well owners who received letters from DWR, 300 are in the Subdistrict 1 response area. Fricke encouraged owners to reply before making conclusions. One letter recipient called DWR for clarification and resolved the issue right away.

    DWR District Engineer Cotten recapped water history from 1938 to present while showing forecasts for hotter, dryer conditions this year. Throughout his update, he referred to the dry years of 2002, 2018 and 2020.

    As of Feb. 3, the Snow Water Equivalent for the Upper Rio Grande looks promising at 107%. But runoff forecasts are low. None reach 100% of average as of Feb. 1, and the San Antonio River meandering into New Mexico and back into Colorado ranks lowest among forecasts at 58%.

    Referring to letters some well owners received, Cotten reiterated new groundwater rules about to take effect. Wells permitted for domestic drinking and sanitation only will be subject to the Rio Grande rules, which means they will have to cover depletions by joining a subdistrict or presenting an augmentation plan. They can contact DWR for more information.

    Closing out the water presentations, SLV Water Conservation District Manager Heather Dutton described opposition to the fifth water export proposal from the San Luis Valley. Previous proposals — San Marcos Pipeline, American Water Development Inc. (AWDI), Stockman’s Water and Sustainable Water Resources – failed. The current pitch from Renewable Water Resources (RWR) does not include water court or permit filings to date, although marketing activities continue.

    The RWR website (http://renewablewaterresources.com) provides background and objectives about the proposal. Dutton encouraged people to compare the RWR website with protectsanluisvalleywater.com and the Protect San Luis Valley Water Facebook page to compare data points.

    The depth (and salinity) of the water has been disputed since geologist Phil Emery hinted at two billion acre-feet stored in the deposits in 1971. He later explained his miscalculation, but the billion-acre-feet notion persists. Meanwhile, all the Valley water has already been allocated. Two ditches carry water from the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the Wet Mountain Valley between May and July, approximately 1,063 acre-feet a year. The rest heads downstream.

    2021 #COleg: The Lower #SouthPlatte Water Conservancy District board keeping an eye on proposed legislation — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate

    Jim Yahn: Photo by Havey Productions via TheDenverChannel.com

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Two proposed water management bills filed for the 2021 Colorado General Assembly session could prove to be problematic to water interests. Both bills were discussed Tuesday during the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy Districts board of directors meeting in Sterling.

    One bill, originated by State Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron and co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, calls for an evaluation of ways to implement underground water storage, as called for in the five-year-old Colorado’s Water Plan. Another seeks to clarify the rights of various members of a mutual ditch company, especially when some shares of the company are owned by non-irrigators.

    LSPWCD manager Joe Frank told his board he has “some concerns that we’re mixing apples and oranges” with the underground storage bill. Frank said that, although it’s a statewide bill, it still comes down to taking unappropriated water out of the South Platte River Basin and storing it outside the basin.

    “You’d have to move the (water) out of the South Platte basin into a designated basin,” Frank said. “Almost any underground storage inside the (South Platte) basin is going to be alluvial to the river.”

    Colorado designated groundwater basins. Map credit: Robert Longenbaugh September 14, 2014

    That means attempts to store the water underground inside the basin would only result in water being pulled out of the river in times of excess flow and pumped right back into the river’s aquifer, resulting in no actual benefit. Instead, the water would have to be pumped and piped to a designated basin outside the South Platte basin, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, to be pumped out again at a later time.

    The other problem, Frank said, is getting the water into the storage basin in the first place. He said designated basins are best recharged by pumping water into a surface reservoir and letting it seep into the aquifer below. Otherwise, high-powered pumps are required for deep injection well storage.

    According to Holtorf’s bill, the Colorado Water Conservation Board would contract with “a Colorado institution of higher education” to do the study, but no specific college or university was mentioned in the draft bill.

    The second draft that Frank discussed concerns water rights for members of mutual ditch companies. Sometimes called irrigation companies or just ditch companies, these companies are owned by member shareholders who receive water during the irrigation season according to the size of their shareholdings. As the name implies, the shareholders mutually agree on who gets their water when. Irrigators don’t receive their water continuously during the irrigation season, but in large quantities over short periods of time. Over the course of an irrigation season, all shareholders get their share of the water, just not all at the same time.

    Problems arise when non-irrigators, such as municipalities or industries, own shares of mutual ditch companies. That ownership occurs through a change-of-use case adjudicated in Colorado Water Court. Those “change cases” can cause confusion in the running of a ditch company because the new users generally want their water continuously during the irrigating season.

    There also is contention over what happens to water that a shareholder doesn’t use; at issue is whether the unused water can be used by other shareholders or must be turned back to the river or reservoir from which it came.

    At the heart of the matter is a 1975 water case, Jacobucci v. District Court, which should have settled the matter. A key passage in that decision states, “the benefit derived from the ownership of such stock is the right to the exclusive use of the water it represents …” Exclusivity, as understood by most in the legal profession, means “if it’s mine and I don’t use it, you can’t use it either.”

    Most ditch companies, however, don’t actually operate that way, but allow the use of unused water as long as it’s put to beneficial use. It is, according to LSPWCD Vice President Gene Manuello, a matter of common sense.

    “It’s just common sense that we all work together,” Manuello said during the meeting Tuesday. “That’s why it’s called a mutual ditch company, we work to our mutual benefit. Let’s not change how we run a mutual ditch company.”

    The draft legislation seeks to clarify the rights of mutual ditch company shareholders but, according to the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, it does anything but that.

    Frank told the board the bill has “a lot of moving parts,” and seems to have been inspired by recent change cases. He said attempts to figure out exactly what the bill means haven’t been very helpful. Manuello, who sits on a number of water boards and committees, said he was on a conference call about the bill recently and gained no new insight from the meeting…

    The draft legislation was submitted by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, who is the ranking Republican on that committee.

    10 things to know about the 2021 #Colorado legislative session — The #Denver Post #COleg

    State Capitol May 12, 2018 via Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Saja Hindi and Alex Burgess):

    A new legislative session is kicking off this week in Colorado, but it won’t really get going until February.

    A batch of new Colorado state lawmakers will be sworn in Wednesday, and the legislature plans to pass about seven mostly minor bills this week. When they return Feb. 16, there will be backlogs of popular bills that were sidelined in the pandemic-shortened 2020 session, plus many new priorities.

    Democrats are still in control, now with an expanded Senate majority. That means until at least 2022, the GOP will have its say but rarely its way…

    Short, distanced start

    Lawmakers will work quickly this week to pass time-sensitive bills and meet constitutional requirements before their break…

    COVID relief

    Ask nearly any lawmaker what they’re plotting for 2021, and they’ll tell you they want to do everything possible to address the coronavirus’ ripple effects.

    But the public should temper its expectations, budget officials say, because there’s a limited pot of money for grants, direct payments and new programs…

    Restricted ambitions

    It is often the case that bills die — or never get introduced in the first place — not because of their merits but because lawmakers are nervous about how much they cost.

    We’ll likely be seeing a lot of that in 2021, given the budget outlook. Take, for example, the bipartisan and generally popular proposal to eliminate the wait list for state-funded in-home care for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Last year was supposed to be the year they committed more than $160 million over seven years to the program, but pandemic hits, plan scrapped…

    Is the momentum for social justice still there?

    The legislature last year repealed the death penalty and passed a police reform package inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Lawmakers vowed then that they would not relent on matters of criminal justice and law enforcement.

    There’s plenty on the table for 2021, including banning no-knock warrants and restricting the use of ketamine against people detained by police. The latter is particularly close to home: First responders injected Elijah McClain with ketamine after he was violently detained by Aurora police in 2019…

    Public participation

    Members of the public will have the opportunity to testify on bills in person, remotely or submit written testimony as they were able to do during the special legislative session, but it will likely be limited. People interested in testifying will need to sign up ahead of time at http://leg.colorado.gov.

    They can also contact their lawmakers directly. To find out who your legislator is, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/find-my-legislator. To contact lawmakers by phone or email, go to http://leg.colorado.gov/legislators…

    Transportation funding, finally?

    Plenty of people on both sides of the aisle have sought and failed to obtain a funding boost for Colorado’s chronically underfunded transportation system. This year, there’s real optimism for a breakthrough.

    The latest plan involves raising certain fees — remember, Colorado lawmakers can’t raise taxes, but they can raise closely related fees — on things like gas and electric vehicle usage in order to generate money for transportation projects…

    Can House Republicans get along?

    Democrats have a strong 20-15 advantage in the Senate and in the House, it’s not even close — 41 of the 65 seats.

    Having hemorrhaged power and influence in the House in recent years, GOP state representatives turned on last year’s minority leader, Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, and replaced him with Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland…

    Public option, take two

    Last year, sponsors shelved an effort to implement a hybrid public health insurance option that would have provided Coloradans who buy insurance on the individual market another option.

    Its return in 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic will likely bring more conflict between supporters and hospital groups. But one of its sponsors, Avon Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts said the bill will look very different, because it takes into account the changes to health care due to COVID…

    A renewed push for gun legislation

    Colorado House Rep. Tom Sullivan was beyond disappointed last year that proposed gun reforms were shelved when COVID arrived. The Centennial Democrat pledged last year to bring gun legislation to the forefront of the 2021 session, and he plans to make good on that promise…

    Climate response

    After a year of raging wildfires, shrinking water flows and record heat, Colorado’s Democratic lawmakers are planning to address climate and environmental policies.

    “Unfortunately, it’s been a big issues for years and I think we’re sort of behind in where we need to be,” Fenberg said. “We basically don’t have the luxury of being able to take a year off of thinking critically about getting our emissions under control.”

    Topics on deck include air-quality issues, improving the electric transmission grid in Colorado, addressing issues of methane leaks, a greenhouse road map and increasing the use of energy storage equipment in Colorado.

    Westminster Democratic Sen. Faith Winter said climate mitigation is also important for communities of color and others who are disproportionately affected by pollution. She’s working on a bill to better define environmental justice and impacted communities, and also intends to address issues of environment in transportation funding bills.

    “Climate change is a huge threat to our state,” she said. “It’s a threat to individual people’s health,” she said. “It’s a threat to our economy.”

    George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Because of the ongoing pandemic, lawmakers will only meet for three days this week, and then it will go into a recess until mid-February.

    “Clearly, there’s going to be a change to how the 73rd General Assembly is going to get started,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “Everything is going to look a lot different than it has in the past. We’re still in the midst of a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic, and the bulk of our work won’t start in earnest until Feb. 16 when we all come back from our temporary adjournment.”

    Under the Colorado Constitution, the Legislature can only meet for 120 days. But after the pandemic hit at the start of last year’s session, Democratic leaders decided to recess for an extended period because of it, after Gov. Jared Polis issued his first COVID-19 executive order calling for a state of emergency…

    So as a result of this built-in recess, which could be extended or ended early depending on what happens with coronavirus infection rates, lawmakers don’t plan to do much in these first three days…

    Beyond typical beginning-of-session matters, including provisions to allow for lawmakers to participate in floor debates and committee hearings remotely, lawmakers have only a handful of bills they expect to address by Friday, one of which is to fix a problem with a bill approved during last month’s special session.

    That was on a $57 million Small Business Relief Program, which is intended to provide grants and fee waivers to businesses most impacted by the downturned economy, particularly to restaurants and night clubs.

    The bill also sets aside money for hard-hit minority-owned businesses, a provision that currently is facing a lawsuit filed by the white owner of a Colorado Springs barbershop…

    Starting on Thursday, counties across the state are accepting applications for that money, and will do so until early February.

    Businesses that qualify will then get their share, but how much will depend on how many apply and how much each county is allocated.

    Under the bill, money is to go to very small businesses, primarily those hardest hit by the pandemic, such as restaurants, bars, distilleries, wineries, caterers, movie theaters, fitness centers and other recreational facilities, but only those with annual revenues of less that $2.5 million and only if they are following local public health orders.

    Because of the monthlong recess, individual lawmakers were given more time to introduce their first three bills — under the law, they are allowed up to five — until the Legislature reconvenes in February.

    Meanwhile, the four leaders in the House and Senate from both parties have approved committee assignments for legislators.

    Locally, that means that Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, will serve on the Senate Transportation & Energy and Finance committees, while Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, will be on the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources and transportation committees.

    Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat whose district includes Delta County, will serve as chairwoman of the agriculture committee. She also will serve on the transportation panel, and is the newly chosen Senate pro temp, the second highest-ranking position.

    In the House, Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, will be on the House Transportation & Local Government, Appropriations and Finance committees, while Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, will be on the House Agriculture, Livestock & Water Committee with Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose.

    Will also will serve on the transportation committee, while Catlin also will be on the House Energy & Environment Committee.

    Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, was taken off the House Judiciary Committee where he served during his first term in office. Instead, he will be on the House Health & Insurance Committee and the energy panel.

    Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, will continue to be on the Joint Budget Committee. The two local lawmakers also will serve on the appropriations committees in their respective chambers.

    From The Colorado Sun (John Frank):

    Here’s a look at the bills lawmakers will debate this week before taking a break

    Legislative leaders said not to expect a robust policy agenda at the start of the session, but rather “minor things we need to get done that are time sensitive,” Garnett said.

    So far, nine bill drafts are on the table. One of the first would allow lawmakers to participate remotely in legislative meetings and conduct certain committee hearings even while the General Assembly is temporarily adjourned. Democratic leaders said they plan to conduct oversight hearings — known as SMART Act reviews — for state departments and agencies before returning in February. The public would be allowed to participate remotely.

    In addition, the Joint Budget Committee will continue to meet behind closed doors with the public not permitted to attend but allowed to listen online.

    The other legislation being considered in the first days would:

  • Change the requirements for a small business relief fund approved in December’s special session to apply to more than just minority-owned businesses, a move designed to nullify a lawsuit stating that the new law was unconstitutional and discriminatory.
  • Extend the deadlines to continue to allow for electronic wills and further suspend debt collection due to the pandemic.
  • Recreate regulations and licensing benchmarks on occupational therapists after lawmakers inadvertently repealed the requirements.
  • #Colorado Water Congress Summer Meeting Day 1 recap #CWCVirtual2020

    Part of the memorial to Wayne Aspinall in Palisade. Aspinall, a Democrat, is a legend in the water sector, and is the namesake of the annual award given by the Colorado Water Congress. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Colorado Politics (Joey Bunch):

    U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Colorado can’t conserve its way out of a deep drought and a decades-long struggle over the state’s water, as he spoke to the state’s water managers Tuesday…

    He said he had passed more water legislation than the rest of the state’s congressional delegation combined during his six years in the Senate and four years in the U.S. House before that. Gardner also is a former state legislator.

    “We have such diverse water needs in our state,” Gardner said, noting his Yuma County community depends on groundwater and that a canoe would dam up the nearest river 30 miles away. He also cited his work on the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver fresh water to the parched farm region east of Pueblo, a project on the books since 1983 that only this year got federal funding, as well as other funding for endangered species recovery on the Colorado River.

    He spoke of the complexity of solutions given the diversity of users and suppliers, plus the Front Range’s dramatic and steady growth.

    “No. 1, we have to have more water storage, that’s an absolute,” Gardner told the Water Congress. “We have to have conservation, No. 2. We cannot conserve our way out of our water shortfall, though.”

    […]

    Former Gov. John Hickenlooper began his recorded statement by noting he’s spoken in-person to the Water Congress before. He then spoke of the challenges created by COVID-19 “made worse by the reckless action of the United States Senate,” before he pivoted to climate change and wildfires.

    Hickenlooper spoke of his time building bridges with Denver and the rest of the state, recalling how he visited the Western Slope soon after he became mayor of Denver in 2003 and received a standing ovation for his remarks.

    “Unfortunately today’s politics almost begs us to be partisan, assuming the worst in each other, raising suspicions between neighbors on either side of the Continental Divide,” Hickenlooper said. “At the federal level Washington is as dysfunctional as a broken septic system.”

    He said water provided grounds to put partisanship aside.

    Hickenlooper spoke of water often during his eight years as governor and adopted the Colorado’s first statewide water management plan. Hickenlooper did not acquire legislative or public support for funding the plan – an estimated $100 million a year – during one of the state’s strongest period of economic growth…

    Pollster Floyd Ciruli interviewed Republican strategist Cinamon Watson and Democratic strategist Rick Ridder after the two candidates spoke.