After clean electricity, Colorado to focus on green transportation, buildings

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Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The coal-fired Tri-State Generation and Transmission plant in Craig provides much of the power used in Western Colorado, including in Aspen and Pitkin County. Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office has a plan to move the state’s electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

 

The 2019 legislative session in Colorado included a major focus on climate policy, and Gov. Jared Polis has a plan to move the state’s electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, is in Aspen on Wednesday/tonight to discuss that plan and how states can address climate change.

In 2019, the Colorado legislature passed a dozen climate-related bills, including bills focused on tracking and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There were also bills aimed at helping coal workers transition to new careers, increasing the size of community solar gardens and diverting more waste from landfills.

“One of the things that in many ways was really interesting was how non-controversial most of these bills were,” Toor said. “Compared to prior years where any one of these bills might have been a gigantic fight, most of them went through without large battles over them.”

Toor said a few bills, including SB 236, which re-wrote how the state public utilities commission will work with utilities, and HB 1261, which sets goals for reducing pollution, have the potential to make a major impact on Colorado’s footprint.

“Together, I think that these will be really transformative and move the state forward toward using low-cost renewable energy that I think will both save consumers money and dramatically clean up our electricity supply,” Toor said.

Though Toor said the climate-related bills were mostly non-controversial, he acknowledged that there will be some economic challenges in parts of the state that relied heavily on coal.

“There’s going to be a lot of work required, I think, to help with economic development in those regions, as the world changes,” he said.

But those changes are due primarily to market demands, Toor said, not state legislation.

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Energy Office

Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office

Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission recently followed California’s lead in adopting zero emission vehicle standards, and the governor’s office is working to expand the number of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations across the state and the I-70 corridor. Toor said this decision is likely to mean more models of electric vehicles will become available in the state.

Such work to electrify transportation could be valuable in reducing emissions as Colorado’s outdoor recreation continues to grow. He said the state is “looking at opportunities for getting EV charging infrastructure at state parks, at ski areas.”

And he said, as the outdoor industry partners with car companies at major events, “it would be great to see more of those be electric vehicles that they’re highlighting when they’re working with various sponsors.”

Toor said the three top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are electricity generation, transportation and buildings. As electricity gets cleaner, he said the focus will shift to transportation and buildings.

“Just as with transportation, we do believe that, in addition to increased energy efficiency, electrification of buildings is going to be very important,” Toor said.

His office just kicked off a study to try to quantify what it would look like to move toward replacing natural gas with electricity in buildings around the state, and to understand what policies might support that.

Toor speaks about these policies and how local communities and states can tackle climate change tonight at 6 p.m. at the Limelight in Aspen as part of the Aspen U speaker series.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with Aspen Public Radio on coverage of of the environment.

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