Agency reports targets in reach via wind, solar power
By Noelle Phillips
Colorado’s power companies can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 98.5% by 2040 without new government policies or programs that would increase costs to consumers, according to a new modeling report from the state.
“The finding that we can minimize costs to consumers by moving on a trajectory that will not only get us to near-zero emissions for greenhouse gases but also other pollutants like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides over the next decade and a half. that’s very good news for Colorado utility customers,” said Will Toor, executive director of the state Energy Office.
The office commissioned Boulder-based Ascend Analytics to study various scenarios for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. Already, state law requires Colorado’s eight power-generating companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030, based on 2005 levels. But it was unclear whether new policies were needed or whether the utility companies would need to plan to invest in more technology to bring down their emissions even further by 2040, Toor said.
Now, the state believes the sector is on the right track to meet its goals even with a need for more electricity because of a growing population and an increasing demand to fuel electric cars and trucks. That was a pleasant surprise, Toor said.
Colorado’s utility companies are shuttering coal-fired power plants and developing plans to increase wind and solar power production to meet those state-mandated goals. But there had been a question about whether wind and solar power would be enough or whether utilities would need to invest in more expensive or unproven technologies such as nuclear, hydrogen and geothermal.
In September, Xcel Energy filed a new clean energy plan that would make 80% of its system run on wind, solar and biomass energy by 2030 and would add 6,500 megawatts of renewable energy to the grid as it closes its last coal-fired power plant.
On Wednesday, an Xcel spokesman said the company was encouraged by the energy office’s findings.
“We agree there is a need for new 24/7 carbon-free technology to achieve deep carbon reductions,” Tyler Bryant, an Xcel spokesman, wrote in an emailed statement.
“The state’s policies will enable us to reduce carbon emissions greater than 80% by 2030 and will inform our future investments into the local infrastructure necessary to move clean energy reliably into our customers’ homes — while keeping bills low.”
Gov. Jared Polis wants Colorado to be using 100% renewable energy by 2040, and in 2019 he introduced a road map to get there. Electricity and transportation are the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution in the state, and the governor’s administration has said it’s important to cut those emissions to slow climate change, prevent catastrophic wildfires, floods and other natural disasters, and to protect the state’s ski industry.
Environmentalists agreed the report is good news for Colorado.
Justin Brant, utility program director for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said he had not dug into the nitty gritty details of the modeling but found the preliminary results encouraging.
“We don’t have to get into some of these novel and more complicated technologies that have challenges,” Brant said.
“For the vast majority of the reductions, we can count on wind and solar and things that are already proven.”
Ean Thomas Tafoya, executive director of GreenLatinos Colorado, said the state should be more bold in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now.
“We could do this way before 2040, I think,” he said. “Wind and solar is a no-brainer in Colorado. What this tells me is we’re on the path. Let’s be bold.”