Those of us who care about clean air, expanding clean energy, and addressing climate change approached 2017 with no small amount of dread. The Trump Administration proceeded to make good on bad promises from the campaign — removing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, rescinding EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and undermining bedrock environmental protections.
These changes to federal policy were disheartening. But, as WRA President Jon Goldin-Dubois stated in a Fort Collins Coloradoan op ed: “If the president of the United States fails to lead, the American people and leaders in our states must fill the void.” Over the past year, we recommitted ourselves to achieving sound policy solutions in state public utility commissions, state legislatures, and the executive offices of our Western states.
In Colorado, our expert team secured several notable decisions by the Public Utilities Commission including using the Social Cost of Carbon to consider externalities, like the public cost of harmful, air emissions associated with greenhouse gas pollution when making long-term resource decisions, and approving Xcel Energy’s application to separate their profits from the amount of energy sold, a critical tool to remove barriers to energy efficiency and distributed renewable generation.
WRA’s advocacy also secured critical improvements to Xcel’s electric grid. Xcel’s Advanced Grid Intelligence and Security initiative will provide new tools so customers could have more control over their energy use and bring much needed improvements to the distribution grid that will help save customers money, reduce energy use and air pollution, and enable new distributed clean energy technologies like rooftop solar.
This summer, Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper stood before a crowd at Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheater to sign a historic Executive Order setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions. This critical achievement, supported by WRA and other conservation community allies, directs the State to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 26% by 2025 and also cut power plant carbon emissions by 35% by 2030. The Order established important energy efficiency goals and community support programs and laid the groundwork for electrifying the transportation sector.
Those of us who live in the West know our environment, our landscapes, and our climate is the foundation for our unique way of life. Governor Hickenlooper’s Executive Order showed Western States will not sit idle while our homes and livelihoods are threatened. With a stroke of the pen, Colorado became the first Rocky Mountain state to join the U.S. Climate Alliance and adopted the mantle of climate leadership.
In the fall WRA and Conservation Colorado broke new trail, outlining a path for how we reach the goals of the Executive Order. The Colorado Climate Blueprint is a new analysis that maps out specific policies that the state legislature and executive agencies should implement in order to drive carbon pollution reductions scientists say are needed to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change
Finally, WRA partnered with Xcel and other stakeholders in presenting the “Colorado Energy Plan.” If approved, this Plan would reduce customers’ bills by retiring older, less efficient coal-fired power plants and replacing them with up to 2 gigawatts of new, low-cost advanced energy resources like wind, solar, and energy storage, or enough to power nearly 600,000 homes. In doing so, the Plan will also create new rural economic opportunities, making billions of investments in rural Colorado, and improve air quality, cutting 3-4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
In Nevada, the 2017 legislature saw an explosion of bills addressing energy issues, and WRA’s experts were at the heart of a coalition guiding smart policy. The signature bill, to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50% from clean energy sources by 2030, was led by a new wave of clean energy champions in the legislature. The legislation cleared both bodies of the legislature but was unfortunately vetoed by Governor Brian Sandoval. While the veto was a setback, its diverse support signaled the importance of reestablishing the state as leader in renewable energy development. The Governor did sign other important legislation promoting rooftop solar by restoring net metering rules enabling Nevadans to once again take advantage of the state’s solar energy potential and energy efficiency legislation.
Western Resource Advocates saw success in 2017 at New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission (PRC). In an important victory, the PRC adopted WRA’s recommendation to better enforce the New Mexico law requiring utilities to spend 3% of their revenues on energy efficiency. The PRC also finalized the implementation of the state’s Renewable Energy Act Plan assuring that 50 megawatts of new solar power (enough to power approximately 20,000 homes a year), and a substantial amount of new wind and geothermal generation, will be developed quickly to serve New Mexico customers.
Then in the fall, WRA crafted and introduced an innovative Clean Energy Standard to lower carbon pollution from electric utilities by 4% a year from 2012 levels, resulting in an 80% reduction by 2040. The Clean Energy Standard is supported by New Mexico’s Attorney General, Prosperity Works, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The standard would be a market-based program, easy for utilities to implement, transparent, and cost-effective. On the importance of the standard, Steve Michel, WRA’s Chief of Policy Development stated,
“The Clean Energy Standard is a sensible step to prepare utilities and their customers to transition to a clean energy future and address climate change. This proposed Commission rule will also help New Mexico join with other states, cities and utilities throughout the United States that are committing to reduce carbon pollution to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change.”
WRA advocated in Utah for decisions to advance electric vehicle use and to help ensure those electric vehicles are powered with more clean energy. Mid-year, the Utah Public Service Commission approved a new pilot for smart electric vehicle charging supported by WRA. The $10 million pilot project offers financial incentives to customers to encourage electric vehicle charging at night when more clean energy sources supply our electricity, and we avoid the need for new fossil fuel power plants used to serve peak times during the day. The program also offered millions in incentives to add charging stations throughout the state.
Looking ahead to 2018
We know the West is special: our mountains, our deserts, our rivers. We are connected to the land, and its beauty. We also know we are stewards of this special place, with a moral obligation to protect it for future generations. We have a responsibility to create a cleaner, more sustainable energy system. We have abundant renewable wind, solar, and geothermal resources. By tapping these resources, using energy more efficiently, and modernizing our electric grid, the West can drive clean energy job creation, eliminate air pollution, and cut carbon emissions. Ensuring the West, its economies, and its people are thriving. We will get even more done in 2018. We hope you’ll join us.