Colorado well-positioned for pollution standards

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Photo: Coal power plant Littleton (iStock)Colorado’s decade-long efforts to boost renewable energy and cut greenhouse gases could give the state a head start in meeting proposed new pollution standards from the EPA.

The rules announced Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency call for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants by 2030.

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter now heads the Center for the New Energy Economy in Fort Collins. Ritter says Colorado should meet the EPA’s goal ahead of time.

“Colorado is a long way down the road to achieving all of what’s going to be required of other states by 2030,” Ritter says. “We’re way down the road and should get most of it done by 2020.”

Xcel Energy has been increasing renewables and phasing out coal-burning power plants for years in Colorado. The company says it has already reduced carbon emissions by 19 percent since 2005.

Colorado became the first state with a voter-approved solar standard 10 years ago with Amendment 37 (PDF). In 2010, the Colorado Renewable Energy Standard (PDF) required investor-owned electric utilities to provide 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, with 3 percent coming from distributed generation.

The law has forced energy producers to switch from coal to natural gas and the transition has been relatively smooth.

In 2013, 66 percent of the electricity generated in Colorado came from coal, 17 percent from natural gas and 17 percent from renewable energy resources, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Companies that generate electric power with anything other than coal, or that produce power-saving technology, are likely to benefit from the Obama Administration's new proposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Natural gas producers, nuclear generators, wind farm operators, solar panel makers and efficiency technology companies may all come out as winners under the plan. Coal stands to be a big loser.

Electric customers in other states could pay higher prices for power but Public Utilities Commission Chair Joshua Epel says that’s unlikely for customers in Colorado.

Critics say the new EPA rules could hurt the U.S. economy but Epel says that since Colorado is already on the same path, the state hasn’t seen a negative economic impact.

“I’d say the different strategies – the fuel switching and energy efficiency – have really helped Colorado because we have a greater fuel mix, or diversification of fuel, than most other states do,” Epel says.

As more states turn to natural gas, other critics say the competition could drive the prices up. Epel says that is a primary concern and that the PUC has taken steps to help counter that as a possibility.

“The PUC approved this year 450 MW additional wind and 170 MW of commercial solar,” Epel says. “That’s really a hedge against increases in natural gas prices. As long as we deep finding that balance, that right type of mixture, that’s the best protection against increases in any of commodity prices.”

The plan is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's efforts to deal with climate change. Each of the 50 states will now determine how to meet individual targets set by the EPA, and then submit the plans for approval.

The push against the new federal standards has been strongest in some states that have big coal mines or rely heavily on coal-fired power plants. Lawmakers cite concerns that new federal regulations could drive up the cost of electricity for residents and businesses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.