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Hayden Station

Hayden Station is one among many remaining coal plants likely to retire in coming years. Photo/Allen Best

But why just 50% decarbonization by 2030?

Former Colorado Gov. Ritter confided at a recent speech that he’s shocked by the turn of events in the last few years.

“We have a president administration that is the most hostile to clean energy and climate change in my lifetime, and that’s saying something,” he said, pointing to the Bush administration and the role of Vice President Dick Cheney.

              Bill Ritter

But despite the backward look in Washington, the change in the heartland is remarkable. “I’m shocked by this turn of events in the last few years,” he said, pointing to the 16 major utilities that have set goals of 80% and 100% greenhouse gas reductions for the next several decades.

Then there’s Tri-State. Ritter said that when he was governor, the then-chief executive of Tri-State Generation and Transmission made a point of telling him that Ritter would take coal plants out of his dead, cold hands.

That CEO is gone, succeeded by another who was similarly resistant to change and then, last year, yet another CEO—this one who asked Ritter and his Center for the New Energy Economy to assist in a stakeholder process to chart the wholesale supplier’s future. In January Tri-State announced plans to close its coal plants in Colorado and New Mexico by 2030.

He made his comments at South High School in Denver on Feb. 20 at a forum sponsored by the Colorado Renewable Energy Society.

I asked Ritter about that stakeholder process. It excluded the member co-ops of Tri-State, at least some of whom thought they should have been at the table.

Ritter said that 43 co-ops is too many to get work done. The stakeholder group had 15 members, including representatives of Western Resource Advocates and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a representative of Holy Cross Energy, a co-op that is not a Tri-State member, plus representatives of the energy offices in each of the four states in which Tri-State operates.

That process was triggered by mandates in Colorado and New Mexico. During his time as governor, Ritter was part of elevating renewable portfolio standards for utilities.

“Policies are levers to build out an industry to where there was an economy of scale, and then you saw prices come down in a dramatic way,” he said.

Now, he added, “market forces are stronger than the policy levers, but they would not be if not for the policies that we put in place.”

In the 11 states of the Western electrical grid, there has been no net natural gas increase in capacity as the coal plans have come off line since 2008. Renewables have replaced the coal. Elsewhere in the country, gas provides 75% of the capacity.

Transportation has eclipsed electrical production nationally as the leading source of greenhouse gases. Achieving transportation reductions will be difficult without national policy, he said. A cap-and-trade system won’t help in transportation, which is why California’s low-carbon fuel standard was needed. “If you put a $50 price on carbon, you are only changing the price of the gas at the pump by 40 cents.”

And then there was the question of why just 50% by 2030?

“I am a believer in some level of incrementalism,” he said. ‘To do 50% by 2030 is a really good step. To try to set a goal for 2050, there’s just too much unknown,” he said.

This was published in the March 2, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. 


Allen Best
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