Boulder CRES Town Hall - 2018 Renewable Legislation

I attended the January meeting of the Boulder chapter of Colorado Renewable Energy Society. The guest speakers for the evening were Representative K.C. Becker and Senator Steve Fenberg, who discussed their renewable-focused legislative agenda for 2018 and provided some helpful insight into the mechanics of the statehouse.

As a general disclaimer, the Colorado legislature follows the general norms of Democrats supporting renewable energy/proactive climate change policy and Republicans supporting incumbent oil/gas and coal infrastructure. There are a few Libertarians who support renewables for economic or freedom-of-choice reasons, but in an unpredictable way.

The 2018 session begins today, January 10. Because Rep. Becker’s Dems hold the majority in the House (37/27), the bulk of the agenda will originate in there. A subtlety of the Colorado legislature is that all bills must go before a committee, but it does not have to be the logical committee (Senator Fenberg mentioned a mental health bill he reviewed last session as part of the State, Veterans Military Affairs committee.) Thus, the majority does not guarantee a bill will even make it to the floor, but it is more likely in the House.

Here is a rundown of a few of the bills planned for this year, some of which are a retread of failed bills from last session, others of which are still in the early planning stages.

  • Reauthorization of the Colorado Energy Office, which is currently limping along on a federal grant. This initiative failed last session but expect it to reappear early.
  • Develop a framework for utilities to work directly with individual cities to help them meet announced 100% renewable goals. (Aside: I asked specifically about Xcel’s tactic to shift renewable capacity to cities with these goals at the expense of surrounding communities and Rep. Becker assured me this would be taken into account in the bill.)
  • Some sort of target for carbon reduction, probably with reference to 2005 levels (reduction is TBD) by 2030.
  • Direct the governor to do impact assessment for the state should we not begin to address climate change.
  • Set 100% renewable target for the state.
  • Provide legislative guidance to the PUC to consider energy storage as a viable “source” (I realize storage is not really a source, but it is for the purposes of this review.)
  • Remove roadblocks created by utilities that currently prevent deployment of behind-the-meter energy storage. This bill can be used as a framework for the PUC, which has this issue on its docket for rule-making.
  • Provide funding to deploy more EV charging stations and possibly begin to allow utilities to rate-base EV charging.
  • Reduce or eliminate EV tax credit (this will likely come out of the Republican side of the senate.)
  • Securitization of utility capital, which would help finance the transition to renewable energy and offset revenue and tax losses to communities affected by retirement of fossil fuel generation resources (this failed last year, but will probably make a return in some form.)
  • Some efforts to improve fracking and pipeline safety, reduce force-pooling, and address orphan wells.
  • Severance tax reform – this is a tax upon extracted resources like natural gas. The Supreme Court ruled that Colorado had overcharged O&G companies, leading to a mandatory refund that essentially bankrupted the Department of Natural Resources. Expect to see a bill to reform the rebate exemptions for the tax (which is 5%).

Other items of note included an announcement that Rep. Becker is creating a Select Committee on Climate in the House. Rep. Becker also provided some perspective of how different levers of our society work together to institute change. For example, a bill in the house last year to remove 600 MW of coal energy from Xcel’s generation failed, but gave Xcel enough of a mandate to petition the PUC (public utility commission) to exchange 600 MW of coal for 1200 MW of wind and solar. In addition, the House is planning to account for some of the scope of the Clean Power Plan and other environmental regulations that have been rolled back at the federal level over the last year.

Becker and Fenberg closed with some advice on how individual citizens can have an impact on renewable adoption. The first is to vote, and vote down-ticket. In particular, the attorney general, Cynthia Coffman is up for reelection. She has a firmly pro-oil-and-gastrack record, including launching suits to stop the Clean Power Plan and fight Boulder County’s moratorium on new oil and gas development. Another recommendation was to show up. Show up at the capital when key bills are being debated. Show up at the PUC on February 1 when it will be determined if some of Xcel’s coal generation will be retired (specifically Comanche 1 & 2.)

2018 looks to be a big year for getting renewable bills on the docket in Colorado, though both Becker and Fenberg warned that few would make it to law. However, I did leave with a feeling of hopefulness and purpose that our elected officials are taking renewable integration seriously and that I (and you) can make a difference.

Footprint Fumbling: Keeping Perspective on Carbon Footprint

I am writing this while in distress. I am on my way home from a conference in Las Vegas and am reflecting on the waste I just witnessed. Beyond superficial waste like fountains spraying eternally onto the sidewalk and rhododendrons in the desert, the waste on my mind is conference waste. With over 40,000 people in attendance at this particular conference, the waste produced for us all to fly there, for each of the 1,300 exhibitors to print brochures and offer novelty stress balls, for each of the attendees to have the daily conference newspaper, is staggering. And this is happening in multiple convention centers within Vegas—as well as San Diego, Orlando, and Chicago—on a weekly basis. As I look out the window at the unseasonably snow-deprived mountains west of Denver, I am certainly in distress.

So what to do? How can I change my behavior to counteract all this waste? The answer, to be honest, involves tough choices. I can walk to the grocery store and ride my bike to work on Monday, both of which I already do pretty regularly. But this Tuesday, when I go to work, I’ll…go to the airport and get on another plane. Playing with the tools on carbonfootprint.com, I learn that one round-trip flight to Chicago is the same CO2 production as 67 days of driving to work. Considering I have already taken five round-trip flights of similar duration in 2016, there are not enough work days in the year for me to ride my way out of this. The damage is already done. 

Never one to dwell on the past, I shall look ahead. I vow to always leave the house early enough to bike and become a Skype devotee. But what about the carbon footprint of Skype? And e-mail? And cat videos? I have 2,476 e-mails in my inbox from 2016, 1,053 sent e-mails, probably a quarter of which have attachments (confessional note: my filing system consists of inbox, deleted, and one archive folder called “Old” that I use to stay out of e-mail jail, so it’s pretty straightforward to count my e-mails). Using data from The Guardian, I have used 121 pounds of CO2. That’s fifteen days of driving to work. While only a fraction of a round-trip flight, I am surprised at the impact of my internet habits. Forget the “think about the Earth before printing this e-mail” disclaimer; just don’t send the e-mail at all. 

It is hard for me not to draw the conclusion that the only way to respond is to contract, to go local. If I work for a company with local reach, the e-mails, the conferences, and the air travel will dry up. That being said, I like my job. It is challenging, I genuinely enjoy my office-mates and the work that we’re doing. Based on the intersection of my skills and local jobs, I could likely find a new job within ten miles of my house if I take a demotion. All of this is reasonable and possible. However, it is in strong opposition to my desire to move upwards. I don’t like admitting this to myself, but it will take some work for me to realign CO2 reduction over career satisfaction. A tough choice.

Also weighing heavily on my brain is that I am only addressing one facet of my life: work. I live where I do because I love being outside. Skiing, my winter love, involves using huge amounts of energy to run lifts, reservoir capacity to make snow, and hundreds of cars sitting on I-70 for hours to get us to and fro. While I do have the gear to propel myself uphill, I can’t do that from my back door and definitely am not going to get in many runs. Triathlon, my summer love, is no better. While I can train either out my back door or within a short bike ride to the pool, most races require a car trip. Hundreds of paper cups on the run course and gel packets are used. Gas is burned getting racers to the start and monitoring the bike course. Do I give up or scale back on these activities to reduce my footprint? Does it matter if everyone else is still participating?

It is easy to see the predicaments I face as either shallow or self-generated. However, I feel there has to be some impact that each of us can make that is somewhere between joining GreenPeace to vandalize an oil tanker, and resigning myself to the situation by kicking the can to the next generation. I don’t know where that balance lies, but I’ll be running errands on my bike trying to figure it out. 

The Cost of Doing Business

The class that had the greatest impact on me during graduate school was actually an out-of-major elective in the chemical engineering department and was—interestingly—co-listed with the business school. The course introduced the concepts of life cycle analysis of a product and how the data resulting from that analysis affects business decisions. At the time, I was a 23-year old design engineer at Ford Motor Company, while many of my peers were full-time students who stayed in school after graduating rather than working in between.

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