Denver’s 80×50 plan

Wind turbine blades heading for Eastern Colorado wind farms. Behind are empty coal cars. “It was an interesting picture of the future and the past,” said Tom Herrod, who snapped it while on his bike.

DENVER — A group of people representing a variety of interests—including utilities, non-profits, the energy efficiency industry, conservationists and business representatives—reports that Denver’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions need ramping up.

Their 80×50 Climate Goal Stakeholder Report suggests accelerating the strategies already underway in order to meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent in Denver by the year 2050 (compared to 2005 levels). That goal was set in Denver’s 2015 Climate Action Plan. “Future generations will judge us on how well we preserved the habitability of our only home—Earth,” says the report’s introduction.

One of the accelerated targets of the recent 80×50 Climate Goal report is to power 100 percent of Denver’s electricity through renewable sources by 2030. “More renewable energy on the grid is the most important thing because the grid powers other points, like heating office buildings, homes and electric vehicles. The cleaner the grid, the cleaner it is to power all these things,” said Tom Herrod, Climate & GHG Program Administrator with the Environmental Quality Division of Denver’s Department of Environmental Health.

Renewable energy: A medium-sized solar installation at the Colorado Convention Center helps supply power to the complex.

Electricity providers have been required since 2004 to increase the percentage of their power from renewable sources. In 2016, 29 percent of Xcel Energy’s power mix was renewable energy. “Xcel already has made a big commitment to raise that percentage to 55 percent by 2026,” said Herrod. “We’re having discussions with them about lots of options. Innovation is moving quickly, so the 100 percent goal is possible.”

Efforts need ramping up

Herrod said Denver has made progress in reducing emissions since 2005. “In the last 12 years we’ve reduced emissions, developed more renewable energy and improved transportation factors. We’ve reduced GHGs by 3.5 percent in 10 years, even though our population has grown by 15 percent. But if we just continue at this rate, it’s not enough. We need more reduction in the same areas. Cities worldwide have a responsibility to lead this effort because cities produce 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and occupy just 2 percent of land mass.”

According to the stakeholders’ report, Denver won’t reach its 80×50 goals using current reduction trends, especially given ongoing population growth. “The realist in me knows that Denver’s climate has the potential to be radically altered,” Herrod said. “For people who love our outdoor climate, these are impacts we don’t want to see happen.”

Denver is already experiencing the effects of climate change, from hotter summers to reduced snowpack and earlier snowmelt. Per the Rocky Mountain Climate organization, if worldwide emissions continue to rise at the historical rate, by mid-century, Denver’s extreme years could see 44 days of temperatures over 100 degrees, and 72 days by the end of the century. A drastic increase in temperatures would increase heat-related mortalities and asthma attacks, especially among at-risk populations, according to Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists. It may also have a significant impact on water supplies because earlier snowmelt in the mountains means less water in the summer months.

Seventy percent of Colorado Residents believe that climate change is real and more than half think that local government officials should do more to both minimize and adapt to its effects, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change. “The City of Denver needs to lead because we have the ability to act quickly, because we are less partisan and our will is good,” Herrod said.

The specific targets in the 80×50 report are divided into stationary (energy use) and mobile (transportation) sectors and include recommendations such as:

  • Require all new buildings in Denver be built to net-zero standards by 2035
  • Power electric vehicles with 100 percent renewable energy by 2030
  • Switch from fuel derived from fossil fuels (natural gas and propane) to low-carbon fuel sources and/or electric heat for 50 percent of heating needs by 2050

Residents invited to provide input

“The order and timing could change based on public input,” said Kerra Jones, Department of Environmental Health Communications and a West Highlands resident.

Denver’s 2007 Climate Action Plan met its goal for reducing GHG emissions and led to the 2015 Action Plan. The newest plan was launched by Mayor Hancock in December 2015 and will be completed in 2018. The new plan will be based on the completed stakeholder report and public input.

Residents are invited to comment on the report’s priorities and timing by participating in an online survey at Denvergov.org\80×50. The survey will close the third week of November, right before Thanksgiving.

Herrod said he’s optimistic about meeting the objectives in the report. “As we approach the 80 percent reduction goal, the last ones might be more difficult. But I have optimism that with our continued technological advances, later in the century we’ll have the ability to do this.”

“An example is the advances in electric cars,” said Jones. “In 2012 there were three kinds of electric vehicles; now there are 20 different models, and they are steadily becoming more affordable. More electric cars will be key in reducing emissions.”

Next in the Tribune: More about Denver’s Climate Action Plan, including target priorities and strategies to reach the 80×50 goal.

To know more about Denver’s 80×50 climate goal, and to take the survey, see Denvergov.org\80×50

To see the 80×50 Stakeholders’ report, see
http://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals
/771/documents/EQ/80×50/80×50%20Stakeholder%20Report.pdf
.