LOVELAND — Will Toor, director of the Colorado Energy Office, has been riding a wave of what he called “pent-up demands for environmental protection legislation” since Gov. Jared Polis was elected and a Democratic majority controlled the legislature.
And this wave includes all major economic sectors that produce greenhouse gases: utilities, transportation, oil and gas, building energy use, and industry.
Toor was the keynote speaker at the BizWest Net Zero Cities event, held at the Ranch event complex in Loveland on Wednesday.
The most overarching piece of legislation, Toor said, was the passage of House Bill 19-1261, which set state greenhouse gas reduction targets of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Everything else fell under it, using regulatory and fiscal measures to drive these changes.
Toor said the state has put climate issues at the heart of supply regulation. “It took Xcel’s voluntary aspirations and turned them into a statute,” he said. Then these were made to apply to other utilities in the state as well. The state also began calculating the social costs of carbon and methane emissions and applying them to the regulatory structures created.
The effect of regulation, combined with voluntary action by utilities – to take economic advantage of the lower cost of generating electricity from wind or solar versus the cost of generating electricity from coal – has led to a projected reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from utilities by up to 80% 2030, way over target. Xcel, the state’s largest electricity producer, will likely eliminate all coal generation by 2031, Toor said.
“Not long ago, Colorado was one of the largest coal consumers in the nation,” he said. “It’s a remarkable transformation.”
The state has also placed an emphasis on “just transition” for coal communities like Pueblo, Hayden and Craig, where coal-fired power plants are a significant part of the local economy. Dampening measures have been put in place to support these communities, he said.
oil and gas
Toor said a 60 percent target has been set for the oil and gas industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. He said the strategies include a higher frequency of leak detection and repair. Companies in the industry are asked to draw up individual plans to achieve the goals.
Reductions in the industrial sector will be slower than in utilities and the oil and gas industry, and efforts are being made by national and international companies to ensure that an industry does not simply shift its emissions to another part of the world where fewer regulations apply strictly.
The greenhouse gas reduction target for industry is 20%, he said.
Strategies include audits of facilities looking for opportunities and low-cost technologies that industry would then need to implement.
Toor named the Pueblo steel mill which, as a result of recent investments, is now one of the most efficient in the world as it uses an electric arc furnace to produce steel. “It’s getting closer to something like zero-emission steel production,” he said.
Both buildings and the transport sector pose problems of scale as “you have millions of producers” of greenhouse gases. The state is “creating a set of tools to decarbonize buildings,” he said. Tools could include using electric heat pumps instead of more traditional heating systems. Senate Bill 246 introduced rebates for customers adding heat pumps, along with a state “green bank” to help building owners fund some of the changes.
The goal in this economic sector is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.
Now that utilities are on track to reduce emissions, the transport sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
“There’s clearly a wide variety of people here, from local governments to individuals, making decisions about what vehicles they will purchase and where they will live in relation to work,” Toor said.
The state will make large investments in electric vehicle infrastructure — such as nationwide charging stations — and incentives for vehicle fleets, including school buses.
“For some children, the diesel school bus causes the highest exposure to air pollution in their lives,” he said. Once these buses are replaced with battery-powered fleets, the state may have the option to use these batteries during off-hours to store excess solar power.
When asked what is not being done to combat climate change, Toor said he was interested in land use as a factor in energy decisions – “build houses where the jobs are”.
He also said that nuclear power generation is among the technologies that the state may need to adopt to achieve 100% renewable energy. “If you look to 2030, how do we get from 90% to 100%,” he asked. Nuclear and hydrogen technologies may be among the solutions, but “very few utilities are currently looking at nuclear power.”
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