Colorado clean energy: 4 reasons the future is bright despite Trump
Earthjustice's Michael Hiatt says renewables and efficiency will continue growing in the state, regardless of federal policy
The following is a guest post from Michael Hiatt, an attorney at Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office where he works on climate and energy litigation. To submit a viewpoint piece, please follow these guidelines.
The Trump administration has repeatedly sought to stall the clean energy economy and stack the deck in favor of dirty fossil fuels. Yet the future of clean energy in Colorado nonetheless remains bright.
On July 11, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order committing the state to meeting or exceeding the greenhouse gas reduction targets set in the Paris climate agreement — an agreement President Donald Trump rejected.
Colorado has long been a national leader in developing clean, renewable energy. In 2016, it was the seventh largest wind producing state and the eleventh largest solar producing state. Over 25% of the electricity generated by Colorado’s largest electric utility, Xcel Energy, last year came from renewable energy resources. In addition, renewables’ share of the generation mix will increase to 30 percent by 2020 under the state’s Renewable Energy Standard.
This clean energy leadership, combined with four recent regulatory developments, highlight that wind, solar, and other distributed energy resources will continue to grow and displace fossil fuels in Colorado, regardless of the Trump Administration’s attempts to stymie clean energy.
- Wind and utility-scale solar are the cheapest resources in Colorado, today and in the future — In May 2016, Xcel filed its long-term electric resource plan, which forecasts current and future energy prices. Xcel’s plan makes clear that both wind and utility-scale solar are currently the cheapest resources in Colorado, and Xcel anticipates it will soon purchase significant amounts of new wind and solar to take advantage of these low renewable prices.
What’s more, Xcel concluded that wind and utility-scale solar will likely remain the cheapest resources in the future, even as the current federal tax incentives are phased out. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) also directed Xcel to analyze the Social Cost of Carbon when calculating the costs of burning fossil fuels in its long-term plan.
- Distributed solar will continue to grow in Colorado through a landmark settlement agreement – There are currently over 275 MW of rooftop solar on Xcel’s system, and approximately 30 MW of community solar projects. Recently, a landmark settlement agreement involving Xcel and numerous stakeholders preserved net metering and ensured these distributed solar resources will continue to grow in the future. As a result of the settlement, Xcel will add an additional 225 MW of rooftop solar and 105 MW of community solar by 2019.
The settlement will also implement a voluntary trial program to analyze a new time-of-use (TOU) rate design. This new TOU rate should further incentivize the optimal deployment of rooftop solar, energy storage, and other distributed energy resources.
- Decoupling will provide a new policy tool to encourage the growth of rooftop solar and energy efficiency, while maximizing benefits for low-usage and low-income customers – The Colorado PUC recently approved a decoupling mechanism for Xcel. Decoupling is a policy tool that removes a utility’s disincentive to promote rooftop solar, energy efficiency, and other measures that reduce electricity sales. This new decoupling mechanism should help ensure Xcel continues to support rooftop solar and energy efficiency in the future.
In addition, the Colorado PUC adopted a recommendation to improve the decoupling mechanism so it is more beneficial to low-usage and low-income customers. The “Tucson Model” applies decoupling credits to low-usage rate tiers and decoupling charges to high-usage rate tiers, in order to maximize benefits for low-usage and low-income customers. This decision continues Colorado’s leadership on innovative energy policies, as Xcel’s decoupling mechanism will be the first time a state has implemented the “Tucson Model” for decoupling
- Xcel begins construction on an additional 650 MW of clean energy – Xcel recently began construction on the Rush Creek wind farm located on Colorado’s eastern plains. Rush Creek will generate 600 MW of electricity when it is completed in 2018. The project will be Colorado’s largest wind farm, and it will consist of 300 Vestas wind turbines that will be built in Colorado.
Xcel will also begin construction soon on a 50 MW utility-scale solar facility near Deer Trail, as part of its new Renewable*Connect program. The Renewable*Connect program will allow Xcel customers to directly subscribe to the electricity generated from a utility-scale solar facility.
This recent good news from Colorado is a strong indicator that clean energy will continue to grow and prosper under the Trump administration, even in “purple” states with a substantial fossil fuel industry. Colorado shows that while there may be dark storm clouds on the horizon at the federal level, the future of clean energy is clear.