By - Jim Vess

Western states move on clean energy and carbon emissions reductions

Energize Weekly, May 1, 2019

A push for clean electricity is sweeping western states with a burst of activity last week as Washington and Nevada adopted new standards and Colorado moved closer to approving a 100 percent net-zero-carbon target for 2050.

California last September set a net-zero-carbon target by 2045. In March, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill boosting renewable energy targets and setting a goal of zero-carbon electricity by 2045.

“It is an exciting time,” said Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office. “The political leadership, the economics, the environmental imperative and the technology are all lining up.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat elected in November, campaigned on getting the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, also elected in November, called for action on renewable energy and carbon reduction in his first State of the State speech. New Mexico Gov. Grisham, elected in 2016, had campaigned on increasing renewable energy in the state.

Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is running for president on a platform focused on climate change and clean energy.

Another element spurring state action is the inaction in Washington, D.C., where the Trump administration continues to discount and deny climate change, said Pam Kiely, senior director of regulatory strategy for the Environmental Defense Fund.

“State, local and citizen-driven action has become the norm,” Kiely said. “It isn’t in spite of the Trump administration, it is because of the Trump administration.”

On Earth Day, April 22, Sisolak signed a bill committing Nevada to raising the state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 50 percent by 2030 and setting a goal of zero-carbon emission by 2050.

In signing the bill, which had bipartisan support, Sisolak noted that Nevada was one of the first states to adopt an RPS but had not kept pace with other states.

“Nevada has fallen from its leadership position and almost out of the top 15 states with an RPS,” Sisolak said in a statement. “But by signing Senate Bill 358 and raising our RPS to require 50 percent of our energy come from renewable sources by the year 2030, Nevada reclaims its clean energy leadership.”

The same day, the Washington state legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 5116 requiring the state to have 100 percent clean energy by 2045 based on renewable and non-carbon emitting generation. Inslee promoted the legislation, and issued a statement saying, “I look forward to signing the bill.”

Among the bill’s provisions are ending all coal-fired generation by 2025, achieving net-zero-carbon electricity by 2030 and 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

The Washington bill also puts in place a “social cost of carbon,” which utilities will have to use in evaluating their plans.

The cost is based on calculations of the adverse impacts to public health, the environment and the impacts of weather events such as floods and hurricanes associated with increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

The legislation sets the social cost at $68 a ton of carbon dioxide emissions rising to a $116 a ton by 2050.

The bill also looks to replace the revenue model for utilities from the traditional “return on investment,” which favors a utility undertaking big capital projects, to a performance-based model.

On April 24, a Colorado Senate committee approved the “Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution” bill and sent it to the full Senate for a final vote. The legislation has already won House approval.

The bill aims to cut the state’s emission of greenhouse gases – power plants and transportation are the two biggest sources – 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2026, 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050.

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electricity provider, has already set a goal of reducing its carbon emissions 80 percent by 2030 and being 100 percent carbon-neutral by 2050.

Xcel CEO Alice Jackson said that the climate bill is part of a trend in legislation that goes back to Colorado setting its first renewable energy standard in 2004.

“For a long time, we chased renewables. Now we have a high percentage of renewables,” Jackson said. “When you chase renewables, you are driving carbon out of the system. Now we are pursuing the remaining carbon that is the next iteration.”

The bill says that “all available practical methods which are technologically feasible and economically reasonable” be considered, but it leaves to the state’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to set policies and regulations to meet the goals.

“The AQCC rulemaking process is a very transparent process,” said Alice Madden, executive director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment at the University of Colorado Law School. “This isn’t new territory. We’ve been heading in this direction, the AQCC has been heading in the direction, the utilities are heading in this direction.”

A second bill reauthorizing the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) directs the commission to use a social cost of carbon, starting at $46-a-ton, in evaluating all future projects that come before the body.

“The basic idea is that the commission take into account the cost of all the effects of a project,” Toor said. The $46-a-ton price tag comes from a federal interagency evaluation of costs to public health and welfare and the environment.

The PUC bill has passed both houses of the legislature and is awaiting action by Governor Polis.

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