The Clean Air Act of 1970 – which was signed into law by a Republican President, demonstrating that a commitment to our environment doesn’t have to be a partisan issue – allows states to either comply with federal vehicle emissions standards or to adopt one alternative set of standards. The last set of federal standards were adopted with support from auto-manufacturers in large part to align with the state standards, so that they would have one clear standard. President Trump’s proposed rollback of the federal standards would result in two standards once again, unless the federal government forces the states to adopt the federal standard – which would be a blatant intrusion on a right of the states that has been respected by Presidents of both parties for decades.
Colorado’s Front Range stands at the brink of being bumped from “moderate” to “serious” nonattainment of the 75 parts per billion ozone standard issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2008.
If Metro Denver and the northern Front Range do not meet the standard this summer, the bump-up to “serious” nonattainment could have significant impacts not only on our health but also on our economy. Imagine the disruption if air quality regulators had to take steps to control more sources of emissions, with rigorous reporting and monitoring requirements. Not only would Colorado be a less attractive place to live, it would quickly become a less attractive place to do business.
Only a third of Colorado’s ozone precursor emissions are produced by Coloradans. The rest comes from naturally occurring background sources, other states and even other countries.
But we are confident that by working together across all fronts, Colorado can take the action needed to address this situation and reduce our local footprint while still protecting our economy and enjoying a healthy lifestyle. Our major industries and companies have made significant strides to reduce their emissions, and they are committing to future action. Now it is important that we as individual citizens do our part.
We urge you to check out the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s “Clear the Air” program at coga.org/ozone/ and the Regional Air Quality Council’s “Simple Steps, Better Air” campaign at raqc.org/our_programs/ozone_aware/ to learn more about what we can all do to help get Colorado into compliance and moving toward cleaner air. Some steps are as easy as signing up to receive notifications on ozone alert days so you know when not to mow your lawn.
Thank you to the RAQC and to COGA for encouraging us to do our share and for making it easy to know what steps to take.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s July 11 Executive Order puts Colorado on the path to meet America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025. It does this by building on the clean energy progress we have already achieved as a state, and by prioritizing working with utilities to achieve these goals.
This is a smart economic move. The International Finance Corporation estimates the Paris Agreement will create $23 trillion in investment opportunity, which means Colorado can create good jobs by working toward the Paris target. This is also a realistic move. We can meet these goals today, while decreasing consumer costs and generating new investment for our workers and communities by working with utilities and industry.
Renewable power is now the cheapest new source of electricity for power customers. Colorado has proven we can harness our abundant wind resources while maintaining grid reliability and low costs. Building renewables is a winner for consumers because it avoids buying fuels and helps reduce pollution. The real challenge is managing the transition from older, less efficient power plants to a clean fleet while addressing local economic consequences, including job losses caused by these closures.
When power plants are retired, they often have residual value. They are called “stranded assets” because the plants and equipment, already included in consumers’ rates, still need to be paid off. This is exactly what is happening in Colorado and around the country to old generation plants and we must be prepared.
Fortunately, there is a proven solution to repay the utility without creating additional burdens on ratepayers: refinancing these stranded assets at a much lower interest rate using ratepayer-backed bonds. This approach is time tested, and has been employed in more than 20 states since 1997. Consumers save a bundle as these low-cost bonds replace more costly capital payments. Utilities’ shareholders benefit as their capital is returned immediately and reinvested into more efficient and clean energy investments. Finally, some of the significant savings generated by the plant retirements can be used to assist displaced workers and communities.
During the 2017 legislative session, state Rep. Daneya Esgar and I introduced HB17-1339 to bring this refinancing approach to Colorado. The bill authorized ratepayer-backed bond refinancing and detailed what the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) would need to consider to approve a utility’s use of the bonds. It also directed that 15 percent of the savings from the refinancing be earmarked to help workers transition and communities recover. Workers, consumer representatives, and communities all offered support for HB17-1339. The bill cleared the House, but died in the Senate based on opposition from coal mining interests.
Gov. Hickenlooper is looking for ways to meet his climate goals without costing taxpayers money. Our approach can do this while also reducing costs for customers and putting private dollars to work in communities where plants close in a “win-win-win” solution. It’s a win for electric consumers who save money by lowering interest costs and by avoiding buying fossil fuels. It’s a win for utilities and their shareholders; they get to recycle their investment capital into more productive new clean energy investments at a fair return. And in a first in the nation, Colorado will have resources to help communities and workers when power plants retire without needing additional tax dollars or expenditures.
I invite the governor to consider using ratepayer backed bonds as one tool in the toolkit he is assembling to address our climate goals. Now that new, cleaner options cost less than running older more polluting plants, it is time to seize the economic opportunity at hand and make the switch.