Mandate or not? Colorado speaker, governor debate path to 90% carbon reductions

Source: By Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive • Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Voluntary initiatives to lower greenhouse gas emissions exist across the country, but to really drive reductions, utilities and others must be compelled to act, many would argue.

Reported contention over how to best legislate emissions reductions in the state reflects such a conflict between lawmakers with the same goals.

“The administration and legislative leadership share a joint commitment to reducing carbon emissions,” Executive Director of the Colorado Energy Office Will Toor told Utility Dive.

According to the Colorado Independent, Gov. Polis is opposed to enforceable mandates, while Speaker Becker argues those mandates would be essential to reducing emissions in the state.

“Typically none of this happens voluntarily,” she told the news outlet. The speaker and the governor’s disagreement led to a delay on the bill’s introduction, which was reportedly resolved earlier last week.

Although economy-wide emissions reductions will be enforced by the state’s AQCC, provisions in the bill require the AQCC to defer to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on regulating retail electricity emissions.

That provision essentially ensures that the PUC retains primary authority over the state’s public utilities, the largest of which is Xcel Energy’s Colorado subsidiary, which has a goal to eliminate carbon emissions from its power generation entirely by 2050.

It constrains the AQCC from dictating the utility’s generation mix or “impos[ing] any direct, nonadministrative cost on the public utility directly associated with quantities of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the utility’s Colorado retail electricity sales.”

At a Politico event in February, Xcel CEO Ben Fowke said they were “pushing boundaries of how much renewable energy you can have on the big grid” and noted it was important to be “technology agnostic” when planning for a carbon-free future.

“To get us to that 100% carbon free, and have reliable energy, which we all count on each and every day, you have to have something that’s zero carbon that we can dispatch on command,” Fowke told Utility Dive. “We have to make sure the regulation is as innovative as the technologies.”

The Colorado bill also calls for a 26% reduction of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025, in line with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2017 executive order, and 50% by 2030. Polis’ first executive order in January called for a $70 million allocation from the Volkswagen settlement toward transportation electrification.