Colorado is in the middle of an exciting transformation that is reducing climate change and pollution and transitioning our electricity production system to clean, affordable, and more sustainable energy. This transition is the result of a set of innovative public policies that have spurred new clean energy investments. These policies include a strong renewable energy standard, robust utility energy efficiency goals and the Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which provides a framework for phasing out some of the state’s oldest, least efficient and most polluting coal plants, and replacing them with a more diverse portfolio of wind, solar, energy efficiency, and natural gas.
The chart below shows how these policies are transforming our energy mix. In 2012, for example, nearly 2/3 of our power came from coal, with only 15% coming from renewables and efficiency. By 2020, however, as a result of Colorado’s clean energy policies, the portion of our power from coal will be less than 50% and the contribution from renewables and efficiency will grow to nearly 30%.
This growing reliance on cleaner resources is cutting pollution and leading to healthier air. For example, the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act alone will cut harmful mercury, SO2 and NOX emissions from the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, by 82%-86%. These pollutants contribute to a host of public health problems including childhood developmental diseases, asthma, and other respiratory and pulmonary illnesses. Similarly, the full suite of policies underway in Colorado will help Xcel cut global warming pollution from its operations to 35% below 2005 levels by 2020.
Clearly, reducing air pollution is good policy. Although some feared transformation of the electric grid in Colorado away from coal would be too costly, we now know that this has been a good deal for customers. It’s good not only for people breathing the air and concerned about the harmful effects of climate change, but also for people paying electric bills. With Xcel’s recent rate increase, approved in February, households that buy power from Xcel are getting the benefits of a cleaner electricity supply for less than $1 per month in 2015. Xcel’s residential rates, which include Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act costs but also other expenses like transmission improvements, will increase on average another 72 cents per month in 2016, and then decrease by 11 cents in 2017. These small increases are less than inflation and less than the average US electric rate increase of 3.3% in 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Investing in clean energy is not only good for our air, it’s also good for our wallets.