Virginia House passes bill that would let customers choose and shop for renewable power, Allen Best’s overview of CO GHG Roadmap, etc.

By Elizabeth McGowan February 9, 2021

Virginia Del. Jeff Bourne sits at a desk in the House chamber at the Virginia State Capitol.

Virginia Del. Jeff Bourne in the House chamber at the Virginia State Capitol. The Richmond Democrat’s House Bill 2048 would allow Virginians to purchase 100% renewable energy from competitive service suppliers. The House passed the bill Friday on a 67-32 vote.

The proposal, which passed Friday on a bipartisan 67-32 vote, would allow renewable energy firms to compete with utilities to supply customers with clean power.

Virginia Del. Jeff Bourne was disappointed when his bill to expand clean energy choice stalled last year because of last-minute legislative horse trading.

But the Richmond Democrat is delighted that a second iteration — fortified with a measure offering a price break on renewables to lower-income residents — passed the House of Delegates on a bipartisan vote Friday. Now, it’s on to the Senate, which he anticipates will be a tougher slog, even though both chambers have Democratic majorities.

“I was trying to figure out how to marry my interest in energy issues with making our constituents’ lives better by reducing their energy burden,” Bourne said in an interview about House Bill 2048. “It’s about making sure our air and water are clean, just like our energy.”

The gist of his legislation is simple. It would allow Virginians to follow the lead of their neighbors in Maryland and the District of Columbia by purchasing 100% renewable energy from competitive service suppliers. Those independent energy suppliers would be allowed to compete head-to-head with monopoly utilities. As the law stands now, residential, commercial and industrial customers are hamstrung from shopping for renewables if and when their utility offers what are referred to as green tariffs.

Neither Dominion Energy nor Appalachian Power, the state’s major investor-owned utilities, is under any mandate to pursue their own 100% renewable energy programs. However, both have done so to box out competitors. Opponents have complained that these tariffs are too expensive and not green enough.

“The bottom line is that in many, many aspects of our lives, people have the choice to procure what they want,” Bourne said, referring to cell phone service and program viewing. “People decide what’s best for them.

“In this case, the social benefit is cleaner energy and a cleaner environment, which leads to more jobs. This is a small part of a big puzzle.” 

Two days before the House passed his bill Friday on a 67-32 vote, Bourne said he felt confident it would advance, even though he “didn’t want to count his chickens before they are hatched.”

The bill is now before the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor. He acknowledges that rounding up enough votes from Republican senators will be tougher. 

Brianna Esteves, manager of state policy with Ceres, agrees with Bourne’s assessment. She was pleased when the stronger bill emerged from the House Labor and Commerce Committee last week on a 16-6 bipartisan vote.

“Last year’s version passed in the House, but there was pushback in the Senate,” she said. “This bill shouldn’t be controversial. But we might see the same thing happen again this year. I’m not sure there’s enough interest among legislators to stand up to Dominion Energy.”

Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit that collaborates with investors and companies on a range of sustainability issues, coordinated support for Bourne’s legislation this year and last because “Virginia ratepayers across the board are frustrated with their lack of access to clean, fair, affordable energy,” Esteves said. 

Relieving energy burdens

Bourne joined the House in 2017 after winning a special election to fill the seat vacated by Jennifer McClellan, now a state senator.

When his similar clean energy choice bill (HB 889) was sidelined last year, he knew he would have another bite at the apple because it was pushed to the 2021 General Assembly via a procedure called the reenactment clause.

Like last year’s bill, this one also includes a provision to allow large customers — those that use at least 5 megawatts — to aggregate that demand from various sites so they could purchase renewable power from an independent provider. 

Bourne’s idea to fold in a 10% discount for low- and middle-income Virginians signing up for clean energy with an independent supplier sprang from his lengthy environmental job experience and conversations with members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

Too often, energy policy works for the wealthiest and not those who struggle,” Bourne said. “I think of the residents of public housing in Richmond who are struggling with energy costs and others who have been marginalized. 

“In calls we had over the summer strategizing, I realized how important this was to me. My goal was to figure it out.”

Bourne’s first foray into energy policy came after he graduated from the College of William & Mary and delved into car fuel economy standards with the Sierra Club. He continued along those environmental lines while working for current U.S. Sen. Mark Warner’s gubernatorial campaign and then his administration.

“My interest in energy has never gone away,” said the 44-year-old, an attorney who serves as general counsel for a contracting company.

Senior attorney Will Cleveland, who specializes in utility issues at the Southern Environmental Law Center, praised Bourne’s bill for including people at all socioeconomic levels in the transition to clean energy.

“It delivers on the promise of renewable energy,” he said, which opponents have long dismissed as too expensive. “People can have renewable energy and save money at the same time.”

Bourne’s bill also complements a handful of fair energy bills directed at Dominion that are circulating in the General Assembly this year, Cleveland said. 

Those are part of a large legislative push this year to empower utility regulators to use cost-of-service analyses to ensure that electricity charges set by monopolies are fair. Currently, the State Corporation Commission doesn’t have that authority. Dominion is against the effort to restore that power to the commission. Cleveland noted that the utility simultaneously opposes Bourne’s bill on the basis that regulated structure doesn’t allow for competition.

“Dominion is trying to have its cake and eat it, too,” he said. “They don’t want competition or a regulator to oversee their rates, which effectively means they want to self-regulate and preserve their unjustifiably high prices.”

‘Kill switch’ for independents embedded in 2007 law 

A 2007 law enabled Virginians to shop the market for the renewable energy option they preferred. However, that measure included a “kill switch” that shuts out competitors once a utility rolls out its own green tariff.

In August 2019, Appalachian rolled out what it’s calling Wind Water & Sunlight for its service area in southwestern Virginia, longtime coal country. The 341-megawatt program offers renewable energy from hydroelectric in Virginia and West Virginia; wind from West Virginia, Indiana and Illinois; and solar from Virginia, when it comes online.

Enrollees pay a small premium per kilowatt-hour for the renewable energy option.

About 200 of Appalachian’s 531,677 residential, commercial and industrial customers had signed up thus far, said spokesperson Teresa Hamilton Hall. She added that enrollment appeared to be trending upward a year ago, “but slowed soon after most likely due to the pandemic.” 

Appalachian Power, a subsidiary of the giant American Electric Power system, has a much smaller customer base in Virginia than Dominion does. Utility regulators approved Appalachian’s renewable energy tariff in January 2019 after rejecting a similar proposal in 2016.

Last July, commissioners greenlighted Dominion’s third try at a renewable energy tariff that included solar, hydropower and three wood-burning biomass units — Altavista, Hopewell and Southampton. With no objection from Dominion, the commissioners removed the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center from the mix. 

Regulators rejected the utility’s first proposal in 2018 and Dominion withdrew its second proposal in 2019.

Before that 2020 approval, major commercial and industrial customers had criticized Dominion for relying too heavily on existing wood-burning biomass from stand-alone facilities and the biomass-fired portion of the output of an existing coal plant instead of investing in new renewable energy. 

Ceres has organized an effort urging the State Corporation Commission to reject Dominion’s latest renewable energy tariff. Adobe, Kaiser Permanente, Marriott, Salesforce, Target and Unilever were among the 13 companies that spelled out how Dominion’s proposal falls short on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, delivers minimal value to customers, and creates a roadblock by precluding customers from pursuing 100% renewable energy offerings from competitive service providers.

“Participation in utility renewable energy programs and renewable energy purchases in competitive markets are equally important tools to reach these goals,” they wrote in a Nov. 14, 2019 letter to the State Corporation Commission, citing the companies’ carbon-shrinking targets. “Unfortunately,” the letter continued, Dominion’s plan “fails to meet the criteria we look for in utility programs.”

Esteves, of Ceres, emphasized that customers want to work with utilities to access 100% renewable energy.

“It’s just that they’re not seeing good programs,” she said. “If there were more competitors, then utilities would have more incentive to offer better programs.”

Independent suppliers were able to offer 100% renewable plans to large Virginia businesses on an interim basis while Dominion’s proposal was under review.

For instance, research from CleanChoice Energy shows that between Sept. 18, 2019, and July 2, 2020, some 12,000 business customer accounts in Dominion territory have switched to a competitive supply, representing roughly 1,000 MW peak monthly load.

Still, that’s a tiny portion of the 2.5 million total customers Dominion serves in northern, central and southeastern Virginia.

Independent suppliers are eager

But Jennifer Spinosi, regulatory and policy vice president for CleanChoice Energy, said those numbers could balloon quickly if HB 2048 is signed into law.

Her D.C.-based independent supplier hasn’t entered the Virginia market on this front yet. The company, founded in 2012, serves residential and commercial customers in the nation’s capital and eight states between Illinois and Massachusetts.

 “If this bill is passed, we will get licensed so we can work with Virginia customers,” Spinosi said. “Right now, the rest of the market is shut down because the two big utilities have a one-size-fits-all renewable energy product.”

She pointed to an early January poll of 500-plus Virginians, conducted on behalf of her company, revealed that a majority of residents want the freedom to choose their energy supplier, select clean energy as an option and add more renewable energy to the state’s generation mix.

Clean Choice built a website to educate Virginians about Bourne’s bill and urge them to reach out to their legislators.

“About 100 people pinged their delegate about it,” Spinosi said. “That’s not an enormous amount of attention, but when you’re talking about a utility issue, that’s pretty good.”


Elizabeth McGowan

Elizabeth is a longtime energy and environment reporter who has worked for InsideClimate News, Energy Intelligence and Crain Communications. Her groundbreaking dispatches for InsideClimate News from Kalamazoo, Michigan, “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You Never Heard Of” won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2013. Elizabeth covers the state of Virginia. Her book, “Outpedaling ‘The Big C’: My Healing Cycle Across America” will be published by Bancroft Press in September 2020.


Colorado’s decarbonization roadmap*

October 12, 2020 by Allen Best

*And why the environmental community is at odds with the Polis administration

by Allen Best

From the Oct. 2, 2020, issue of Big Pivots.

The administration of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday issued the draft carbon reduction roadmap, identifying how state officials see Colorado going about decarbonizing the state’s economy as required by a 2019 law, HB 19-1261, the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution. The draft roadmap and other documents can be seen on the Colorado Energy Office website. Here I deliver the takeaways in bite-size segments:

1) Colorado rocks

There’s much quibbling about whether this roadmap will get us where we need to go in a timely manner. Plenty of people think we need to accelerate.

Be very clear that Colorado has set out to create the Big Pivot in how we live and especially in how we produce and consume energy. The goals – 26% fewer economy-wide carbon emissions by 2025 compared to 2005 levels, 50% by 2030 and then 90% by mid-century –reflect the goals of the Paris climate accord. The Paris agreement reflected what scientists say we must do if we want to avoid the far worse impacts from a climate going as crazy as our most recent presidential “debate.”

This is a necessary war.

Why does it make sense for Colorado to embrace these goals when, say, Oklahoma does not? And why should the U.S. do so when India is still building coal plants?

Foolish naysaying. Leadership starts at home, and it will spread. Colorado leads the way in the nation’s interior. Colorado is in the front row along with California, New York, Massachusetts, and a few others.

Mostly the leaders of this are younger, but certainly not all, and they universally must be optimistic. During these dark, divisive times we have a new “greatest generation” effort that spans multiple generations.

Colorado has had a 2 degree F increase. Moffat County, in the state’s northwestern corner, where this photo was taken in August 2020, had the warmest August ever recorded and also among the driest. Photo/Allen Best

2) The slow bake

You’ve read this statistic before, but it bears repeating, as the 100-plus-page roadmap does: Colorado has warmed 2 degrees F on average in the last 30 years.

Colorado’s recent average summer temperatures are even higher than the extreme heat of the 1930s Dust Bowl. Peak runoff has been coming 1 to 4 weeks earlier. Warming temperatures and drier soils increase the likelihood of larger wildfires.

August was the hottest ever in Colorado, but 30 years from now these same temperatures will likely be viewed as relatively cool.

3) Why so long?

The law that launched this roadmap process was adopted in May 2019. The law spoke to the climate crisis. It demanded brisk action. Why has it taken so long to put this roadmap together?

One crucial task was to lay down the methodology for getting a strong handle on the emissions. The last inventory from 2015 was slippery, involving a lot of guesswork about emissions from the oil and gas sector, agriculture—well most everything except for the relatively few giant smokestacks.

The Air Quality Control Commission in May adopted regulations intended to deliver a clear picture of emissions. The adage behind this is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. This closer study has revealed the conclusion that the oil-and-gas sector has been producing far more emissions than had been assumed.

And plans do take time to assemble. Consultants are hired, stakeholder meetings convened, and so forth.

Too long? That’s the argument from the environmental community, and we’ll get to that.

4) Where is the power?

The legislation delegated much of the power to achieve change to the Air Quality Control Commission and, by extension, the staff of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Perhaps just as important, if less officially so, is the Colorado Energy Office.

Together these are the main state agencies that put together this roadmap, with smaller if still important roles for the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, and others.

No less important, but in a different way, is the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. It has less discretion, but has a huge role in overseeing the decarbonization of electrical generation and also transportation and buildings.

5) Who are the faces?

Three individuals stand out in public presentations. First is Will Toor, who has a Ph.D. in physics but also spent a winter herding sheep in Moffat County. He has great band-width. He directs the Colorado Energy Office after a political career that included being mayor of Boulder and a Boulder County commissioner.

From CDPH&E there is John Putnam, the director of environmental programs, who formerly was managing partner of Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell, one of Denver’s major legal firms. Also a key figure, in my read, is Garry Kauffman, director of the Air Pollution Control Division.

I’ve left out a dozen names here that I’m aware of, and there might well be a dozen more unknown to me that are also crucial.

6) Source of emissions?

Electricity generation—primarily from coal plants—long stood as the No. 1 source, but this has been overtaken by transportation. Oil and gas production has figured in prominently, which is why recent rule-making before the Air Quality Control Commission matters so much.

7) The crucial choices?

The Polis administration has chosen to be somewhat cautious and methodical. The plan released on Wednesday hasn’t changed much in the last two or three months. It sees Colorado retiring most of its coal generation by 2030, even as the state takes rapid steps to electrify transportation and begins the hard work of electrifying, or at least decarbonizing, other sectors.

“Under current policies and with pre-covid assumptions, the state is on a trajectory to achieving approximately half the level of emission reduction needed to meet the 2025 and 2030 reduction goals,” the report says. “Additional actions are needed to get all the way there.”

Those additional actions are all important, but they amount to tweaking. Getting to the goals can be achieved with existing technologies, the report says.

Environmental groups fundamentally disagree. They want bold action, either by pushing for decarbonization of electrical generation even more rapidly or by adopting economy wide mechanisms like cap and trade or a carbon tax.

8) Areas of agreement

The Polis administration and environmental groups agree that we will be shifting to a more electrified world in the next 30 years. We will drive electric cars and even electric trucks (although there’s perhaps room for hydrogen), and live in homes absent gas-fired hot-water heaters. But how to get there?

Even within this fundamental agreement there are disagreements about pace. Consider Xcel Energy, which would seem to be a clear winner in the electrify-everything theme. In fact, it has warned on several occasions against getting in too much of a hurry.

Just a few weeks ago, the National Parks Conservation Association proposed requiring oil and gas companies to electrify engines used in compression. Xcel—backed by the Colorado Rural Electric Association—said that this shift would require more electricity than the infrastructure could provide. It favors a slower pivot.

9) Pick up the pace

Beginning in February, Conservation Colorado and other environmental groups began grumbling that the Polis administration was moving too slowly. In June, WildEarth Guardians filed suit against the Polis administration. Stacy Tellinghuisen from Western Resource Advocates addressed a subcommittee of the Air Quality Control Commission late in the summer.

Their message was consistent: Polis administration, you need to pick up the pace. And Air Quality Control Division in particular, you need to examine some bigger, bolder ideas.

In July, I talked with Pam Kiely, from the Environmental Defense Fund, after a subcommittee of the Air Quality Control Commission had met to kick around what was needed.

“At its essence, this is an air pollution problem,” she pointed out. And the law identifying the targets directed the “expert regulatory commission to use its expertise to employ strategies to ensure and guarantee reductions in pollution. It’s been over year, and I think it’s time for them to get serious.”

In these public meetings, John Putnam had frequently cited constraints in staffing. Kiely conceded the restraints, but argued that the allocated staffing of 6.4 full-time employees only forced the state agencies to “allocate their time wisely,” to “get the most done for the buck.

Kiely cited regulations adopted by the Air Quality Control Commission in June that crimp substantially the hydrofluorocarbons, a small but powerful greenhouse gas emitted from refrigerating units, aerosols, and other applications. Fine, said Kiely. EDF supported this. But by 2030 this secures a reduction of 1.5 million metric tons relative to the gap that needs to be bridged of 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent gases. (The draft plan looks to bridge the gap in other ways, too).

She said lacking in the state’s preliminary roadmap were “concrete and enforceable limits.” Those same words were repeated again and again during summer, and then once again this week as environmental groups reacted to the draft plan.

10) Legislators speak

Several state legislators have spoken before the Air Quality Control Commission—and hence the staff—in May and successive months.

Said House Speaker KC Becker:  HB 1261 accompanied by SB 96, both adopted in 2019, provide “expansive authority and clear direction specifically to this Commission to develop the regulations we need… Policies that do not guarantee quantifiable and enforceable emission reductions are not ‘consistent with’ the goals laid out in statute…. the AQCC has the sole responsibility to adopt the backstop regulations to guarantee we hit our targets.”

Two other legislators, Faith Winter and Dominique Jackson, also spoke at Air Quality Control Commission meetings.

11) Strong backstop

Western Resource Advocates submitted comments to the Colorado Energy Office in late July that adhered to the same theme. These strategies and goals are nice—but they’re not enforceable, said Stacy Tellinghuisen and Erin Overturf.

Instead, WRA and others asked for what is sometimes called a backstop authority, a carbon tax or something similar. Only with that backstop device could there be certainty of the private sector – whether automobiles or coal plants – taking the necessary action to achieve the goals.

Western Resource Advocates, in a July 31 letter, articulated at length the organization’s position. It used the changes in the electricity sector in the last 15 years.

This is from the Oct. 2, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. If you want to be on the subscription list, go to

“The renewable energy standard, energy efficiency standard, and legislation to accelerate coal plant retirements have driven the development of new technologies and significantly reduce the cost of clean energy. As a result, today the electricity sector is poised to voluntarily reduce its emissions,” the letter said. “Now, policy is needed to drive similar innovation and cost declines in other sectors of the economy.”

Very specifically, WRA asked for concrete and specific strategies. The group also pointed out that the state lacks the tools to ensure that Tri-State, Platte River Authority, and other providers achieve those 80% reductions. The law only applies to Xcel (which provides more than 60% of the state’s electricity).

Tri-State has not announced its plans regarding the Laramie River Station at Wheatland, Wyo. It’s a major source of power for its Colorado cooperative members. Photo/Allen Best

12) Speaking of Tri-State…

It closed its plant at Nucla in September 2017 and also one at Escalante, N.M., a few weeks ago. And yes, all three units at Craig will be shuttered by 2030, as per an announcement in June.

Will they actually be closed?

The economics of energy suggest that yes, absolutely, Tri-State will close them. How can it afford to keep burning expensive coal when wind and solar are so much cheaper. And that’s one of the assumptions of the roadmap and the officials who put it together.

But there’s a big question mark about imported power into Colorado, particularly from the Laramie River Station in Wyoming.

In a filing at the PUC, Western Resource Advocates concludes that the existing plants will reduce Tri-State’s carbon emissions by only 34% as compared to 2005 levels. Duane Highley, on a recent webinar, said that Tri-State has its work cut out to get beyond 50% renewables. (He sees creation of a regional transmission organization, or something similar, as being crucial; Matt Gerhart from the Sierra Club points out that Colorado Springs Utilities did not predicate closing of its coal plants by 2025 on anything else happening).

13) The soft stick

The state’s roadmap said that achieving the 2025 and 2030 goals will “require additional policies beyond the actions the state has already taken.”

Details get sparse, although on page 25 there’s a paragraph that points to something of a soft stick. SB 19-236 permits any utility to file a Clean Energy Plan with the State’s PUC that proposes to reduce carbon emission 80% by 2030. If so, and the plan is approved by the PUC, the utility is generated a “safe harbor” from additional regulation by the Air Quality Control Commission.

There are many more ambitions and small steps involving transportation and building electrification, even in the agriculture sector. Some are underway, others only now getting started. But specific proposed actions are largely lacking.

14) Big bang for the buck

On Tuesday, the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council issued a lengthy report that was prepared by Evolving Energy and Grid Lab. See the report overview here.

One big takeaway is that the biggest bang for the buck to be had was pushing electric utilities to decarbonize even more rapidly, upwards of 98% and 99% by 2030.

The big question is how. Xcel Energy in 2018 famously pledged 80% reduction by 2030 using existing technologies, a pledge now put into law. There has been much debate about just how close to 100% it, and other utilities, can get during this decade.

The Sierra Club’s Matt Gerhart says the PUC has ample legal authority to require early closure of coal units. Plus, he says, the

AQCC has broad legal authority under HB 19-1261, and that authority extends to imposing emission limits and ordering units such as coal units to shut down.  So the AQCC could also order coal units to shut down early. The AQCC’s authority extends to all electric utilities in the state, including utilities that are not regulated by the PUC (such as Platte River Power Authority and Colorado Springs Utilities).

I am struck by a comment that State Sen. Chris Hansen made at a recent meeting. An engineer by training, he said he believes it’s possible to get to 90% more easily than has commonly been believed. “I think we will surprise ourselves,” he said.

“I have seen a lot of really great modeling of around 90% to 93% renewable penetration without any significant energy problem,” he said. “I’m very bullish on getting in the low 90%’s much quicker. It’s the last 5% or 6% that are in question.”

This new report also calls for dramatic changes in transportation, with the majority of new cars and trucks of all weights being electric by 2034, up from fewer than 2% of sales in 2018. The influence of California should be noted. Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced a ban on most sales of internal combustion vehicles by 2035. Maybe there is hope for Colorado electrifying more rapidly.

This report also calls for decreasing emissions from the building sectors by at least 9 to 14% from 2005 levels by 2030. It calls for 55% of new homes to be all-electric by 2025 and envisions a mandate for all all-electric homes by the early 2030s.

15) What they said

In various ways, most of the environmental groups had much the same thing to say this week. Consider Howard Geller, at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. He said the roadmap:

…“correctly identifies energy efficiency and electrification as key tools to cut pollution across Colorado. Reducing energy waste and shifting from fossil fuels to increasingly clean electric power will protect our climate, improve our health, and save us money. However, many of the proposed actions in the Roadmap are not fully fleshed out. We look forward to working with Governor Polis and his appointees to ‘put more meat on the bones’ and strengthen the Roadmap before it is finalized.”

16) Travel brochure

Jeremy Nichols, of WildEarth Guardians, spoke in metaphor in his criticism. “It’s less of a road map and more a destination vacation brochure. It’s great if we get there. But it does not explain to me or to Colorado how we are actually going to get there.”

Nichols said he wants the state to be careful about how it invests its time and energy in trying to deliver complex solutions. He wants to see the effort focused on further scrubbing carbon emission from electricity, much like the Sierra Club/NRDC report advocates.

State Sen. Chris Hansen

17) Filling the legislative gaps

Certainly, there are other legislators in Colorado than Chris Hansen interested in energy—and it runs across the aisle. I’m thinking of Kevin Priola, a Republican from Adams County and ardent supporter of vehicle electrification. But Hansen has had his fingers on nearly all the important legislation.

During the last legislative session, Hansen had several bills that got waylaid by covid. One of them involved transmission, another to put a greenhouse gas accounting into the choice of materials used to construct buildings.

Another bill would institute a renewable natural gas standard, similar to that adopted for electricity, to accelerate efforts to capture methane from dairies, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants. This would reduce methane emissions and also supplant a certain amount of demand for natural gas obtained by drilling.

Hansen has a long list, and he’s only one legislator. When I talked to him in July, he also made a point of saying he favors incentive. We at that point were talking about the agricultural sector.

18) And local governments?

I called Jacob Smith, the former mayor of Golden who now leads the Colorado Communities for Climate Action. That group has had a strong presence of local officials testifying from metropolitan Denver to the Western Slope at AQCC meetings.

Without the state actually knowing how it will achieve the targets, he said, the Polis administration is taking tools off the table such as the idea of cap-and-trade, a device that has been used by California.

“We hear the state talking about wanting to go back to get more clarity (from the Legislature), and the response you hear from legislators is that you don’t need more clarity. The language is very clear. You have the responsibility and the authority to take the state to the targets.”

On Tuesday, the Colorado Communities for Climate Action sent a letter to Polis that had none of the strong language of Smith, but did have signatures of more than 100 members of town and city councils and county commissions from the Front Range westward, among them:

Earle Bidez, Minturn mayor pro tem; Todd Brown, Telluride mayor pro tem; Hilary Cooper, San Miguel commissioner; Thomas Davidson, Summit County commissioner; Kim Langmaid, Vail mayor pro tem; Sonja Macys, Steamboat Springs City Council; Dave Munk, chair of the Holy Cross Energy Board of Directors; Greg Poschman, Pitkin County commissioner; Teak Simonton, Eagle County treasurer; Lauren Simpson, Arvada City Council; and Torre, mayor of Aspen.

Colorado’s state government will host a public listening session on Tuesday, Oct. 20, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. MDT via Zoom. State leaders will give an overview of the roadmap report and state climate equity work and will listen to questions and input. Registration is required  REGISTER HERE.

This story was originally published in the Oct. 2, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. To get on the mailing list, go to

Allen Best

Who’s next at Colorado PUC?

Utilities and wildfire in Colorado

Colorado’s GHG roadmap focuses almost exclusive on wellhead emissions for the oil and gas sector. It ignores life cycle GHGs of oil and gas developed in Colorado. End use emissions — what comes out of the tailpipe or the power plant smokestack — accounts for approximates 80% of life cycle GHGs for this sector.

The “wellhead approach” to oil and gas would be akin to a scenario where 80% of GHGs from the transportation sector in Colorado were emitted from passenger cars – but state policy chose to focus exclusively on the 20% of GHGs coming from commercial trucks. Even if we got trucking GHGs down 90 or 99%, we would have ignored 80% of total transportation sector emissions.

The Roadmap acknowledges that all sectors have an important role to play for the state to meet our 90% reductions by 2050 goal. But it is silent on the fact that if we mine coal or oil or gas that cancels out GHG reductions progress in Colorado – we will have ultimately failed future generations to the same extent as if we failed to reduce in-state emissions.

The Roadmap needs to be informed by a comprehensive, life-cycle approach. Driving from Denver to Grand Junction is a trip of close to 250 miles. If we drive an EV for the first 70 miles (28% of the trip) to Frisco, and switch over to a gas-guzzling SUV rental for the next 180 miles – our total emissions will be far greater if we’d driven a high-mpg passenger car for the entire trip. If the Chevy Suburban gets (an optimistic) 20 mpg, we burned 9 gallons of gas that could have been avoided with an EV charging station in Frisco.

The wellhead emissions approach ignores the forest of end-use emissions by focusing on a few ornamental trees that the equivalent of wellhead emissions.

Life cycle analysis should be used for all energy sources and all sectors of the economy. Meeting Colorado’s goal of 90% GHG reductions by 2050 requires honest accounting and grappling with the hard issues. That includes ramping down oil and gas as part of a just transition that puts workers to work in the clean energy sector.


National Executive Action

President-elect Biden should use all the tools at his disposal to avert further climate devastation while helping people recover from the pandemic.

Below, we’ve pulled out 25 key executive actions that Biden can take from Day One to protect and invest in communities, end the era of fossil fuel production, and #BuildBackFossilFree. Every action should come with strong labor standards to protect workers’ rights and be developed with meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples, workers, frontline communities, and other affected constituencies.

1. Protect and invest in the Black, Indigenous, Brown, and working-class communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution and climate disaster.

Prevent pollution hotspots

Develop and advance a federal No Hotspots Policy to prevent disproportionate exposure to multiple sources of pollution in “hotspots,” particularly in communities of color.

This executive action has not been taken.

Create a Climate and Environmental Equity Map and Screen

Establish a system to identify communities facing the heaviest pollution burdens, climate vulnerability, health disparities, and socioeconomic inequities, and screen all regulatory proposals and investments for equity impacts using this system.

This executive action has not been taken.

Implement a fossil fuel moratorium for environmental justice communities

Halt new fossil fuel infrastructure, operations, and transport in and around environmental justice communities.

This executive action has not been taken.

Address cumulative pollution impacts

Require cumulative pollution impact assessments of all applicable federal policies, regulations, and actions, in order to reduce disproportionate environmental impacts on over-polluted communities.

This executive action has not been taken.

Strengthen the federal environmental justice mandate

Reaffirm and strengthen Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice, including expanding its scope to include climate change impacts, risks, and required mitigation for all identified adverse impacts, and establish a mandate to require that at least 40 percent of federal clean energy and climate investments are targeted for the most impacted communities.

This executive action has not been taken.

Enshrine self-determination of Indigenous peoples

Institutionalize Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) to require consent of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and Indigenous peoples regarding federal actions affecting their lands, livelihoods, culture, and spirituality.

This executive action has not been taken.

Reckon with the impacts of colonization

Establish a high-level commission to determine federal responsibility for the harms affecting American Indian and Alaska Native nations and peoples, and use this as the basis for policies and investments to remedy past harms and support self-determination for Indigenous clean energy transitions and economic development.

This executive action has not been taken.

Prioritize co-pollutant reductions

Require that greenhouse gas emissions standards and related policies also prioritize and maximize reducing other pollutants in overburdened communities.

This executive action has not been taken.

Set a national climate pollution standard

Establish a science-based, nation-wide, and economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate pollution at the pace necessary to protect public health and welfare.

This executive action has not been taken.

Regulate climate pollution sources

Set strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions from all stationary sources of pollution and from all modes of transportation, including vehicles, shipping, and aviation, as fast as possible.

This executive action has not been taken.

2. Reject new fossil projects, eliminate giveaways to oil, gas, and coal corporations, and end the era of fossil fuel production.

Ban federal fossil fuel leasing

Ban new fossil fuel leases and permits on our public lands and waters, and phase out existing production as quickly as possible while protecting workers and communities.

This executive action has not been taken.

Reject climate-polluting projects

Reject all federal permits for fossil fuel and other climate-damaging infrastructure, including, but not limited to, the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, Line 3, and Mountain Valley Pipelines.

This executive action has not been taken.

End fossil fuel subsidies

End fossil fuel subsidies, bailouts, and international finance and redirect funds to climate investments.

This executive action has not been taken.

Hold polluters accountable

Investigate and prosecute fossil fuel polluters for damages they have caused, and electric utilities for antitrust violations.

This executive action has not been taken.

Prevent new polluter giveaways

Commit to veto legislation that would undermine climate action or environmental justice, including bills that grant legal immunity, new subsidies, or regulatory loopholes for polluting corporations to continue to harm our communities and environment, and bills that invest in technologies that would harm communities or perpetuate market-based mechanisms.

This executive action has not been taken.

Ensure a just transition

Create an Interagency Just Transition Task Force to facilitate a well-managed phaseout of all fossil fuel production and guarantee support for affected workers and communities, including wage and tax base support, job training, and vocational opportunities.

This executive action has not been taken.

End fossil fuel exports

Reinstate the ban on crude oil exports under a national emergency declaration and halt fossil gas exports to the extent possible under existing law.

This executive action has not been taken.

3. Launch a national climate mobilization to Build Back Fossil Free, delivering jobs, justice, and opportunity for all.

Declare a climate emergency

Declare a national emergency on the climate crisis and direct resources to build out clean, renewable, and distributed renewable energy

This executive action has not been taken.

Establish an Office of Climate Mobilization

Create a new office and council to lead a national climate mobilization alongside federal agencies and state and local governments.

This executive action has not been taken.

Create a green infrastructure bank

Establish an institution to finance historic green infrastructure investments via loans, grants, equity, and other instruments.

This executive action has not been taken.

Use green manufacturing to drive the 100% clean energy transition

Use the Defense Production Act to mobilize domestic production of clean energy, energy efficiency technologies, storage, smart grid infrastructure, and electric vehicles.

This executive action has not been taken.

Transform all federal government operations to 100% clean energy by 2025

Direct all agencies, including federal utilities, to power their operations and facilities with 100% clean energy by 2025.

This executive action has not been taken.

Usher in an era of energy democracy

Drive energy democracy and green Rural America by financing distributed and community solar and wind power development.

This executive action has not been taken.

Decarbonize and increase resilience of the buildings sector

Make retrofitting accessible and affordable for building managers and homeowners while creating millions of good jobs.

This executive action has not been taken.

Make the U.S. a responsible world leader on global climate justice

Rejoin the Paris Agreement and commit the U.S. to reduce its fair share of emissions at the source, fulfill its “climate debt” to developing countries by increasing climate finance contributions, and call for binding safeguards under Article 6 to protect human rights and the right of Indigenous Peoples, including an effective grievance procedure and the prohibition of market-based mechanisms.

This executive action has not been taken.

For a detailed climate justice executive action blueprint, Biden should look to the #ClimatePresident Action Plan: 10 Steps for Next Administration’s First 10 Days and the Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform. Together, these plans are supported by over 500 leading climate, environmental, racial and economic justice, and youth organizations representing millions of people nationwide. They stem from the best available science and legal analysis (see: Legal Authority for Presidential Executive Action on Climate).