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Colorado to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2040

Jordan Smith
By Jordan Smith September 12th, 2019
4 min read
For business

Colorado's 100 percent renewable energy plan will cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Colorado will obtain 100 percent of the power on its utility grid from renewable resources by 2040, according to a new roadmap from Governor Jared Polis. The 100 percent renewable energy target was the headline policy in a series of legislative measures aimed at expanding the use of solar power, making it easier to establish electric vehicle charging sites and encouraging utilities to shutter coal plants early and replace them with green jobs.

Polis’ roadmap also contains plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the state by 26 percent by 2025 and 90 percent by 2050. Summing up the impact of the proposal, Polis says, “It means cleaner air, green jobs that can’t be outsourced, and lower electric rates, thanks to the decreasing cost of wind and solar power. And, of course, it’s about the health of our planet and about climate change, particularly in a state with climate dependent industries like agriculture and the ski industry.”

The target goals in the bills approved by Polis are voluntary rather than mandatory. This decision was welcomed by utilities and other businesses, which argue they can achieve better results with a more flexible approach. Xcel, Colorado’s largest utility, already has one of the most ambitious clean energy goals in the country, with a plan to reach 100 percent carbon-free energy across the eight states it serves by 2050.

Modernizing Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission

Polis signed seven pieces of legislation on climate change and energy aimed at supporting his 100 percent renewable energy target. One of the most important bills was SB19-236, which includes several steps to change the operation of the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

In addition to codifying Xcel’s 100 percent clean energy target by 2050, SB19-236 directs the PUC to examine how distributed resources, like rooftop solar panels and battery storage, can be added to the grid. The bill also introduces securitization measure that reduce the risk for ratepayers when coal power plants are retired.

Under HB19-1261, the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, the PUC retains the ability to set regulations for retail electricity utilities. However, the Air Quality Control Commission is tasked with setting targets to help achieve the carbon emission reduction goals laid out by Polis.

The PUC has already worked to reduce carbon emissions and promote clean energy. Last year, it accepted a proposal from Xcel to retire 660 megawatts of coal power in favor of battery storage and solar facilities. Additionally, a PUC order passed in 2018 requires energy storage to be a key part of all utility planning processes. Noting that it had not previously treated all electric facilities equally, the PUC pointed out at the time that the new order will “establish requirements for a coordinated electric planning process that is to be conducted on a comprehensive, transparent, statewide basis.”

Supporting consumer access to solar power and EV charging

Two further bills include measures designed to ease customer access to community solar projects and encourage them to switch to electric vehicles (EVs). The Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act eliminates a provision that customers could only join a community solar project if they live in the same or an adjacent county. The act also lifts the state’s community solar cap from 2 megawatts to 5 megawatts, which will allow larger community projects to be built.

On EVs, customers will be able to charge their vehicles at newly-established charging facilities run by utilities. The Electric Motor Vehicles Public Utility Services bill allows utilities to recover costs from charging sites, and tasks the PUC with overseeing applications to establish the sites. Parking at the facilities will be reserved for electric vehicles, with a $150 fine for non-electric drivers who breach this rule. Extra effort will be made to set up these sites in rural areas, so they are not left behind in the transition.

Legislators have given utilities until May 2020 to present transportation electrification plans to the PUC. Their goal is for 1 million EVs to be on the state’s roads by 2040. Supporters of the transition argue it is necessary to tackle air pollution and reduce carbon emissions. As the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) explains, “We cannot reduce this air pollution and clean up our air unless we aggressively switch the vast majority of our vehicles from gas-powered to tailpipe emissions-free, electric vehicles. We do not believe we can make this transition quickly, and ensure the transition to clean, electric-powered vehicles happens equally in every neighborhood without the active involvement of major utilities.”

Xcel has already presented proposed EV charging rates for commercial fleets and transit agencies to the PUC for approval. The utility claims it could save consumers up to 50 percent by charging vehicles at off-peak times.

Jordan Smith is a freelance journalist and translator covering issues related to energy, the environment, and politics. His work has appeared on the independent news site Opposing Views, and at the Canadian Labour Institute.