Colorado GHG Goals

Energy consulting firm E3 found that based on pre-2020 actions and policies, Colorado will only meet half of its emissions-reduction targets.

Expanding electrification of buildings, transportation and a more comprehensive transition to renewable energy will be needed for Colorado to achieve its carbon emissions-reduction goals, a draft "roadmap" released Sept. 30 by Gov. Jared Polis' administration says.

Consultant Energy and Environmental Economics modeled two scenarios for the report: a reference case using pre-2019 assumptions and a separate case using post-2019 assumptions. E3 found that Colorado, under current policy plans, is on track to achieve only around half the level of emissions reductions required to meet its interim reduction goals. 

The roadmap was developed after the passage of HB 19-1261, the state's comprehensive climate action plan, which includes carbon emissions-reduction targets of 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels. As a result of the legislation, the Colorado Energy Office, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, among others, collaborated on the draft roadmap.

"Colorado is experiencing two of the three largest wildfires in the history of our state, and that's just one of countless indicators that climate change presents an increasing threat to our economy and our way of life," Polis said in a Sept. 30 statement. "We have taken historic steps towards our goals, and this Roadmap will help guide the critical efforts necessary to reap the full benefits of boldly and equitably transitioning to a clean energy economy."

The study confirmed that transportation is the leading source of statewide carbon emissions, followed by electricity generation, oil and gas development, and buildings. While the impact of COVID-19 on carbon emissions may be large in the short term due to reduced oil and gas production, decreased migration to Colorado, and a reduction in car usage, long-term effects are not yet known, the report found. 

The roadmap recommended an 80-percent carbon emissions reduction for the electricity generation sector by 2030, and for the state's largest regulated utility, Xcel Energy-Colorado, and wholesale energy provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to achieve zero-carbon electricity generation by 2050.

Xcel in December 2018 announced it was making a voluntary commitment to deliver 100-percent carbon-free electricity across its eight-state service territory by 2050, with an interim target of 80-percent emissions reductions by 2030, relative to 2005 levels (see CEM No. 1517).

There might be additional opportunities to create even more significant carbon reductions in the generation sector, the report says, including switching to performance-based ratemaking or enacting a rulemaking that would create legal assurances of the planned retirement of coal-fired electric generating units.

"Because performance based regulation is outcome driven, it may better enable the creation of financial mechanisms that can drive utilities to seek deeper GHG-pollution reductions across their entire system as well as opportunities to incentivize use of zero carbon resources to serve new electrification loads," the roadmap document says.

The plan also calls for transition to near-100-percent electric vehicles on Colorado roads by 2050. The Colorado Energy Office on April 23 unveiled a transportation-electrification plan to achieve a long-term goal of 100-percent zero-emissions for every vehicle in the state (see CEM No. 1588).

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is currently considering separate transportation electrification plans submitted by Xcel and Black Hills Energy, Colorado's other investor-owned utility. Xcel in its filing estimated its plan would support the growth of more than 450,000 EVs in its Colorado service territory by 2030 (see CEM No. 1591).

But some conservation groups felt the roadmap did not go far enough. "After a year of work, the Roadmap is missing the most essential element for progress: concrete regulatory policies, to be proposed swiftly, that taken together are fully capable of guaranteeing climate pollution goes down the requisite amount while simultaneously addressing adverse pollution impacts on disproportionately impacted communities," Pam Kiely, senior director at Environmental Defense Fund, said in a Sept. 30 news release.

Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, echoed Kiely's sentiments. "There are some good ideas here with real opportunities but for Governor Polis' climate roadmap to have his 'boldly forward' stamp, verifiable pollution cuts need to come together with specific and equitable policies and deadlines," she said in a written statement.

A public listening session on the draft plan will be held Oct. 20, and public comment will close Nov. 1. A final version of the roadmap is expected by the end of 2020.

Aria covers California and the Southwest from Albuquerque. Her work has appeared in a variety of popular and academic publications.