Guest commentary in the Denver Post from allies Steve Winter of Clean Energy Action and Kevin Cross of the Fort Collins Sustainability Group and spokesperson for the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate:
Colorado could once count itself among national leaders on climate change mitigation and renewable energy. In 2004, citizens voted to approve an initiative establishing a renewable energy standard for qualifying utilities.
The legislature has since increased that standard to 30 percent renewable generation for investor-owned utilities and 20 percent for large electric co-operatives by 2030.
Now, as governors from California, New York and Colorado release plans or sign legislation related to climate change and renewable energy, it is clear that Colorado no longer leads on these issues.
Last Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 350, landmark legislation to increase renewable energy and reduce air pollution. This bill requires California to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It will double the energy efficiency of homes, offices and factories, and spur the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.
The following day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new climate change commitments for his state. Cuomo joined California in signing the Under 2 MOU (Memorandum of Understanding), a commitment by states and cities worldwide to reduce their emissions 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, a limitation on emissions consistent with a 2 degree Celsius increase in global average temperature.
Cuomo also declared his intention to link the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade market reducing emissions in nine Northeastern states, with other markets in California, Quebec and Ontario. Finally, he committed to putting solar on 150,000 homes and businesses by 2020 and to installing renewable energy systems at all 64 State University of New York campuses.
In mid-September, Gov. John Hickenlooper presented a Colorado Climate Plan that lacks specific emissions reduction goals and proposes no new initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s fair to say that Hickenlooper’s plan is a step backward for Colorado: While Gov. Bill Ritter previously had set a goal of 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050, Hickenlooper’s plan skirts around specifically referencing this goal. Instead, his plan projects that by 2030, Colorado’s emissions will increase 77 percent from 1990 levels.
A projected population increase of 700,000 by 2030 partially accounts for the increase. Still, Hickenlooper’s plan represents a mere 12 percent reduction in per capita emissions by 2030, according to the 2014 Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
Despite its deficiencies, Hickenlooper’s plan asserts that “Colorado is on the right track.” So where will the governor’s business-as-usual approach take Colorado?
Buried in the plan itself is the answer. Colorado, famous for its beauty in all seasons, is on track for an average temperature rise of more than 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, making seasonal temperatures in Denver most “closely resemble … Albuquerque.” By 2100, Colorado’s average temperature could increase 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
Our state has already seen some of the devastating effects of climate change: the ravages of pine beetle infestations, more intense floods and more destructive fires. If the governor wishes to preserve the Colorado we know and love, he should listen to what leaders on climate and renewable energy in New York and California are saying.
Indeed, Governor Hickenlooper should do these states one better and set an emissions reduction goal that is both indisputably safe for the planet and equitable for its inhabitants. He ought to take up the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate’s recommendation to support limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. By adopting these ambitious goals, he could establish Colorado as a true climate leader.
Hickenlooper’s Energy Office has stressed that this plan is work in progress. One can only hope that future versions of the plan include goals based in science and concrete actions to achieve those goals. States that are “on the right track” — New York and California — have these goals and initiatives. Colorado ought to as well.