State legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean electricity has made Colorado a leader in environmental protection.
That was the optimistic message brought to Durango on Wednesday by Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office. He is the former director of the transportation program at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and a former mayor of Boulder and a Boulder County commissioner.
Toor is developing a road map to Colorado’s goals under the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, a bill passed in 2019 that calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.
“We’re trying to figure out how in the heck we are going to meet the goals the legislation has set,” Toor told about 100 people who attended the Green Business Roundtable on Wednesday at the Strater Hotel.
Toor said the Energy Office had assessed where the state was heading on greenhouse gas emissions before the election of Gov. Jared Polis and where the state needs to be, based on 14 to 16 bills passed last year to decrease emissions, tighten environmental protections, promote electrification of the transportation system and create incentives for energy-efficient businesses and homes.
The road map aims to address gaps between the state’s current actions and the Legislature’s more ambitious goals.
Public outreach is key to finding creative solutions to meet goals for reduced greenhouse gases, and Toor asked residents to help develop the road map by commenting at the Colorado Energy Office’s website.
The Energy Office is scheduled to present a road map to Polis in six months.
“The action taken in the last year has helped the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19%, but we still have a gap of 9 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions we need to eliminate to meet the goals set last year,” Toor said.
Toor said passage of Senate Bill 19-336 – which reauthorized the state Public Utility Commission and emphasized that utilities develop clean energy plans – provided incentives for Tri-State Generation and Transmission to reduce its reliance on coal generating plants and move to renewables.
In January, Tri-State, which supplies 95% of the electricity used by La Plata Electric Association and other rural electric cooperatives, announced plans to build solar and wind generating facilities across the Four Corners to help offset the loss of power from closing Escalante Station near Prewitt, New Mexico, by the end of 2020 and the Craig Station and Colowyo Mine in northwest Colorado by 2030.
Among Tri-State’s planned solar projects are a 120-megawatt solar array in La Plata County, which could power about 36,000 homes, and another in Dolores County that would generate a 110-megawatts and could power 32,000 homes.
Tri-State CEO Duane Highley, who assumed the position in February 2019, worked with the Polis administration and state lawmakers to pass a PUC reauthorization bill that emphasized cleaner power generation, Toor said.
He called that a major change from previous leadership teams at Tri-State that had opposed increased state demands on clean energy and increased regulation.
“Instead of coming out saying the Legislature had declared war on rural Colorado, the new CEO thanked Polis in a tweet for working with them to craft legislation they could support,” Toor said.
Guinn Unger, who represents north and east La Plata County on the LPEA Board of Directors, said he has worries the new Tri-State solar project in the county was devised without local input and that it could hinder LPEA’s own efforts to pursue greater solar generation.
But despite his concerns, Unger also said the state legislation has pushed Tri-State in a greener direction.
“I don’t think Tri-State would be doing what they are doing without that state legislation,” he said.