Colorado steps toward decarbonization in 2019, agenda for 2020

15 years ago, Colorado’s two top electricity providers were determined to build large coal plants and continue to invest in fossil fuel generation, adding millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and oceans and standing in the way of using Colorado’s abundant wind, solar, water and other renewable resources.  These corporate goals superseded citizen and ratepayer opposition, and as a result, Colorado has one of the largest, newest coal plants in the country (Comanche 3) which came online in 2010.

Now, after the 2019 Legislative Session, Colorado is largely “turned around” and helping to lead the transition to a low-carbon future. 84% of Colorado citizens support state and federal action on climate change and 79% support a 100% renewable energy policy.

Electricity will persist as  Colorado’s  largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for some time and thus is a major focus of attention, while we also tackle transportation and heating, beginning to switch off of gas.

Lots of citizen action led to positive steps this past year

Colorado’s Largest Utility Committed to Deep Decarbonization

After years of work, Colorado’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, committed to 80% carbon reduction by 2030 and aspiring to a 100% reduction by 2050 as outlined in their Spring 2019 carbon reduction report. This isreverberating throughout the US utility industry.  Work continues as Xcel is still not minimizing the net present value revenue requirement (PVRR) and proposes to keep adding gas infrastructure/investment (in 2023) despite gas already failing to compete against wind, solar, and storage.

Oil and Gas New Regulatory Scheme (SB19-181)

On April 16, 2019, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed SB19-181 into law. SB19-181 shifts the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) primary mandate from one of fostering the oil and gas industry to one that prioritizes public health and safety and the environment, and provides local governments with increased control over the regulation of oil and gas operations in their jurisdictions. Governor Polis has appointed the new members of the COGCC who are tasked with developing new rules governing the oil and gas industry.

State Legislature Passes Strong Climate Goals (HB19-1261)

Colorado’s 2019 Legislature made history when it passed HB19-1261 setting a strong set of climate goals-a 26% reduction in greenhouse gas pollution by 2025, 50% reduction in GHG pollution by 2030 and a 90% reduction by 2050-all compared to 2005 levels. The Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) is charged with leading the effort to write the necessary rules to achieve these goals, and we can be sure that industry lobbyists will be in full attendance at every meeting. If Colorado is to achieve the best possible outcomes it will be critical to have steady and informed citizen involvement through this process.

Colorado Public Utility Commission Reauthorized and Redirected

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission  (PUC) was up for reauthorization in 2019. When they enacted SB19-236, the State Legislature emphasized that they wanted the PUC to change the way that Colorado’s investor-owned-utilities (IOUs), Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy, are regulated. The PUC is to start including the “Social Cost of Carbon” in its utility planning, starting with $46/ton in 2020 and escalating from there. The PUC is also directed to review regional markets, performance based regulation, and resource planning at the distribution level. All of this is on top of the current major rewrite of PUC rules in Docket 19R-0096E.

Legislature Passes a Host of Other Climate and Energy Bills

The 2019 Colorado Legislature passed a host of other climate and energy bills that will help accelerate the transition beyond fossil fuels. To read a general summary of the 2019 Legislative accomplishments on climate and energy see this Colorado Public Radio story or see the summary prepared by the Climate Reality Project.

2019 Legislation Summary Environmental & Climate Change  

Climate Bills

SB19-181 Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations

Changes the mission of the COGCC (CO Oil & Gas Conservation Commission) from ”fostering” O&G Development to ”Regulating” Public Health, Safety and the Environment are now the primary consideration over siting of O&G wells including cumulative impacts. Remakes the Commissioners more balanced, rather than industry dominated. Expands authority of local governments to regulate the location of oil and gas facilities as part of their existing land use powers. Increasing bonding for accidents/orphaned wells. Requires 24/7 continuous monitoring of operations for pollution

HB19-1261 Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution.  Commitment to a path for substantial reductions in greenhouse gases 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, 90% by 2050.  Enhancing the now-statutory requirement imposed on Xcel in SB19-236 (below).

SB19-236 Sunset Public Utilities Commission. Enshrines Xcel’s Colorado Energy Plan of 80% GHGs reductions by 2050 into law Adds a delayed Social Cost of Carbon ($46/ton) in Energy Resource Planning. Provides the PUC with new authority over Tri State—the state’s largest Member-Owned Utility (high country).  Creates the Colorado Energy Impact Authority to help Coal workers when a plant is closed Into which HB19-1313 was added, which puts into statute Xcel’s Clean Energy goals, while also providing them a monopoly on the transmission of the distributed grid.

Plus HB19-1037 giving statutory OK to Securitization via Ratepayer Bonds of ‘Stranded Assets’ While allowing Xcel to purchase new fossil fuel plants and accept no financial responsibility for the recent or future acquisition of LNG resources.

HB19-1003 Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act. Expands the size of community solar projects from 2MW to 5MW Ensures licensed electrical supervision (worker transition justice)

HB19-1188 Greenhouse Gas Impact in Fiscal Notes.  Requires all new legislation indicate whether it will have a postive/negative effect on GHGs Makes every piece of legislation accountable to the GHGs reduction goals.

SB19-096 Collect long-term Climate Change Data.  Requires the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) of the CDPHE (Colorado Dept of Public Health & Environment) to collect GHG data and forecast future emissions.

HB19-1314 Just Transition from Coal Based Energy Economy.  Benefits to coal transition workers for education and training. Grants to eligible entities in coal transition communities to create replacement jobs. Utility retiring a coal-fueled electric generating facility must submit workforce transition plan at least 90 days before the retirement of the facility.

HB19-1231 New Appliance Energy and Water Efficiency Standards.  New products sold in Colorado and phased in over a period of 3 years.  General service lamps covered beginning in 2020, air compressors and portable air conditioners covered beginning in 2022, and all other listed products covered beginning in 2021.  The bill also keeps in place the water efficiency standards.  The sale of a noncomplying product after the effective date is penalized up to $2,000 Sale of a noncomplying product to an elderly person, $10,000.

HB19-1006 Wildfire Mitigation Wildland-Urban Interface.  Provides funding for fuels reduction Provides $1M for reforestation

HB19-1324 Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.  Known as SLAPP Suits.  Expedites Defendant Motions to Dismiss. Reduces likelihood of industry frivolous lawsuits against protestors/activists Decreases cost of defense by Defendants.

Electric Vehicle Bills

HB1159 Modify Innovative Motor Vehicle Income Tax Credits.  State Tax Credits for the purchase of EVs extended and expanded through 2025.  $2,500 for a car ($1,500 for a leased EV); $3,500 for a light truck; $5,000 for a medium-weight truck; $10,000 for a heavy duty truck.  Includes Hydrogen vehicles.

SB19-077- Electric Vehicles Public Utility Services.  Allows Public Utilities to install EV Charging Stations Enhances the amount/location of the charging network Reduces dependence of manufacturer charging stations, while allowing Utilities to recoup costs by charging full rate of return —or more— to ratepayers. 

HB19-1198- Electric Vehicle Grant Fund  Allows the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles; Requires the money in the fund to be continuously appropriated to the Colorado energy office.

HB19-1258 -Electric Vehicle Charging Station Parking.  As with Handicapped spaces, this bill fines drivers of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles for parking in a charging station space Reduce incidences of the practice of ICEing ($150 fine).  Airport/Hotel Parking for EVs no longer charging are exempt from the fine. Reduce ‘range anxiety’

SB19-192 Front Range Waste Diversion Enterprise Grant Program.  Creates the front range waste diversion enterprise. The enterprise will collect a user fee on each load of waste disposed of at a landfill in the front range and credit it to the new front range waste diversion cash fund to finance the Front Range waste diversion grant program.  Sets the user fee at 15 cents per cubic yard per load beginning 01/01/2020, with fee increases 15c/year, maxing at 60c/year.  Increases the fine for littering on public or private property by inflation and credits the increased fine to the fund.

HB19-1271 Housing Authority Property in CO New Energy Improvement District. Commercial property having at least 5 dwelling units may finance energy improvements to the eligible property by joining the NEID

Water Quality Bills

HB19-1113 – Protect Water Quality Adverse Mining Impacts.  Current law does not address reliance on perpetual water treatment as the means to minimize impacts to water quality in a reclamation plan for a mining operation. Requires demonstration that water quality treatment is no longer necessary. Requires bonding in an amount to sufficient to protect water quality and eliminates self-bonding.

HB19-1279 Protect Public Health Firefighter Safety Regulation PFAS, Polyfluoroalkyl Substances.  Firefighting foam permanently contaminates water supply (Widefield/Security) Causes cancer among firefighters and military.

SB19-186 Expand Agricultural Chemical Management Program Protect Surface Water.  The bill expands the scope of the Ag commissioner’s agricultural management plans to include the protection of state waters, which includes surface and subsurface waters.

HB19-1029 Republican River Water Conservation District.  Expands the boundaries by including the district areas where groundwater pumping depletes the flow of the Republican River.

HB19-1200 Reclaimed Domestic Wastewater Point of Compliance.  Enhances the usability of waste water for agriculture and hemp by including disinfected. treated water from public sources (in addition to private).

Hemp Bills (Hemp is a terrific alternative to plastic!) 

SB19-240 Hemp Regulation Alignment with 2018 Federal Farm Bill.  Aligns the state’s Hemp laws to the Federal Farm Bill.  Defines the percentage of THC allowed in produced hemp products.

SB19-220 Industrial Hemp Products Regulation.  Allows registration and local control over hemp farming.

Good Bills that Failed

HB19-1143 Plastic Straws only on Request.  Would have standardized asking for a straw rather than auto-supplied. Would not apply to fast-food or to-go establishments.

SB19-243 Prohibit Food Establishments’ Use of Polystyrene.  Styrofoam containers generally can’t be recycled (except though Alpine)

HB19-1199 Colorado Clean Pass Act. EVs can use HOV lane no charge. HOV lane created to reduce pollution by encouraging carpooling Additional perk for EV buyers

HB19-1218 Loaned Water for Instream Flows To Improve Environment.  Current law allows water rights owners to lease or loan their water to the Colorado water conservation board to protect instream flows for three years of use in one ten year period. Would have allowed use for five years in any ten year period, and allowed renewal for two additional ten year periods – for a total of thirty years in the program. The bill also expands the board’s ability to use loaned water for instream flows to allow loans to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree.

HB19-1165 Onsite Wind Turbine Mfg Prop Tax Exemption. Would have given Vestas and other wind turbine manufacturers a property tax exemption where they’re built or built & placed

Never Introduced!  

Last year we tried to pass a 100% Renewable Energy bill in the legislature. It failed. It’s somewhat of a legislative mystery why we didn’t even introduce one this!

  • It’s therefore necessary that we all work towards getting Governor Polis to issue an Executive Order requiring the state to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030
  • …and to require the state be carbon neutral by 2050

Bad Bills that Failed

Senate CR-001 Transfer of Great Outdoors Colorado Money to State Education Fund Would have allowed for transfer of money earmarked for preserving open spaces into the State Education Fund (essentially pitting nature vs. kids).

SB19-053 California Motor Vehicle Emission Standards.  Prohibiting emissions standards that are more stringent than the federal standards.  Would have prevented the Governor’s EO on Zero-Emission Vehicles from being implemented.

HB19-1163: Reduce Regulatory Burden Rules on Businesses.  It would have required all agencies to produce a “flexibility study” for every proposed rule. The study had to look at alternatives for meeting the desired outcome of the rule, and consider “easier” standards for any business with less than 100 employees (which is over seventy percent of all businesses in Colorado!)

SB19-062: Limit Agency Rule-making Authority to Amend Rules. Would have required an executive agency obtain an additional statutory grant of rule-making authority to change the substantive impact of an existing rule

The Work Ahead

While Colorado has set goals to address greenhouse gas emissions, the real work of achieving those goals now lies ahead. This will involve extensive rule-making proceedings at the PUC, the AQCC and the COGCC-with citizen participation (and stamina!!) necessary to reach the best possible outcomes as Colorado writes “the rules of the game” for moving into the post-carbon world.

We aim to get Colorado’s largest rural provider of electricity, Tri State Generation and Transmission, moving more quickly towards a clean energy future. Tri State is in the middle of a Resource Planning effort that we hope to use to help accelerate Tri State’s move away from its heavy dependence on coal generation (71%) and towards using more of the abundant wind and solar in its service territory that stretches from windy Wyoming to sunny New Mexico.

We aim to monitor Xcel’s transition to a low-carbon system to ensure that it is done in the most cost-effective and competitive way while bringing the benefits of clean energy to Colorado communities and workers.

For the 2020 Legislative Session, there is support for and likely focus on:

  1. Reducing dependence on natural gas through a “Clean Heating” initiative, 
  2. Promoting distributed resources and microgrids, which create pathways for communities to access the abundant wind, solar and storage resources available in Colorado 
  3. Ensuring that the clean energy transition is maximally competitive and beneficial to Colorado.
A pumpjack in Midland, Tx.
A pumpjack in Midland, Tx.