Regulators

Colorado Regulators Approve Three Utilities' Renewable Energy Plans Amid Objections from Environmentalists

Published on: 14 July 2022 10:10 AM
by KnowESG
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Colorado regulators have approved the clean energy plans of three utilities, despite protests from environmental groups that the plans contain vague promises of green electricity and fail to account for over 200,000 tonnes of dirty coal emissions.

State clean energy experts have determined that Colorado Springs Utilities, Holy Cross Energy, and Platte River Power Authority's plans are sufficiently explicit and are now enforceable should the utilities fail to meet their targets. 

The plans specify how each utility will generate electricity in the coming years, including what percentages will come from coal, natural gas, hydropower, solar, and wind, and how many tonnes of carbon emissions will be produced by each source.

“All future resource planning performed by the utility will need to achieve at least the level of reductions of the filed plans, and there are backstops built into the statute if a utility fails to achieve the emissions reductions that have been committed to,” Colorado Energy Office Executive Director Will Toor said.

The environmental groups that opposed the plans argue that they do not specify how they will comply with state laws for utilities to eliminate 80 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by 2030, compared to a 2005 baseline. 

They express concern that if the utilities' plans fall, there won't be enough time for carbon reductions to catch up with state targets or the increasing demands posed by climate change.

“They haven’t seriously engaged with the core question under the statute, which is that utilities have an actual plan that demonstrates emissions reductions,” said Matt Gerhart, a senior attorney at the Sierra Club’s Denver office. Western Resource Advocates and the Natural Resources Defence Council also joined in the objections. 

The smaller utilities' clean energy plans were deemed "voluntary," but now that they have been validated by the Air Pollution Control Division, Colorado can hold the utilities accountable for their commitments, according to state authorities. Later this year, larger utilities, like Xcel Energy, are anticipated to finalise their clean energy plans with the state.

The two biggest complaints from environmental groups centred on the municipal utility of Colorado Springs, which filed plans in which 27 per cent of its electricity in 2030 would be generated from "to be determined" clean sources. 

Last year, Colorado Springs decommissioned the coal-fired Drake generating station near downtown, but it continues to run the Ray D. Nixon coal plant south of Fountain and other natural gas-powered generating stations.

Josh Korth, the chief technical analyst on climate change for the Air Pollution Control Division, stated in response to the environmentalists' criticisms that the state had returned to the utility and pointed out the plan's flaws. 

The initial file did not appear to meet the proportion of clean energy by 2030. Colorado Springs Utilities accelerated its commitment to add additional sustainable energy capacity before 2030, but it did not specify whether these projects would be wind or solar or where they would be located.

“Our view is that the statute requires a plan, which is different than promises,” Gerhart said. “That’s the crux of the decision. I think the state’s view is that they’re going to achieve this reduction, and we trust them. And we would have preferred there’d be more specificity.” 

The verification process “did exactly what we wanted it to do, which is it caused Colorado Springs Utilities to go back and modify their plans to ensure that they would achieve that 80% reduction,” Toor said. It is not the state’s job to tell a utility’s governing board exactly how to generate power or were, state officials said. 

By selling electricity to a third-party power broker, Holy Cross Energy, based in Glenwood Springs, attempted to avoid accountability for roughly 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to environmental groups. Holy Cross owns a portion of the power generated by Xcel's Comanche 3 plant in Pueblo. Since the broker is not required to submit a clean energy plan, environmental advocates believe that no one is accountable for reducing these emissions by 2030.

Holy Cross said it resented implications that it wasn’t all-in for clean energy and, in fact, had plans to be generating from 100% clean sources by 2030. The state responds that whoever buys the electricity from that power broker is required to put those tonnes of associated emissions on their books for state regulators to see. 

Environmental groups continued to argue that Colorado would have no control over these emissions if the Comanche electricity was sold to an out-of-state utility, as state carbon reduction rules vary widely. Toor stated that this is partially offset by power generated in other states and imported into Colorado, where the retail utility must account for these emissions.

Moreover, according to state authorities, even if Holy Cross retains the Comanche emissions on its books in 2030, it will generate just under 80 per cent of its electricity from clean sources, which state law permits them to round up to 80 per cent.

Toor asserted, as the last point, that a deal awaiting final approval from the Public Utilities Commission would permanently close Comanche in December 2030, with the support of state agencies and environmental groups.

“The discussion about the fate of the Holy Cross’ share of Comanche 3 in 2030 should recognise that (it) will be retired by the end of that year, and associated emissions will go to zero,” Toor said. 

Source: The Colorado Sun

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