Get Big Pivots

Legislators are considering how to nudge emissions from buildings, clean up Front Range air, and bring agriculture into the decarbonization effort

 

by Allen Best

Conventional wisdom holds that politicians shy away from major initiatives in election years. Some think that is at play in Colorado this year. After all, inflation is at work, energy prices are rising, and analysts predict a rough election year for Democrats in Congress.

But if Colorado’s 2022 climate and energy legislative agenda certainly won’t match that of 2019, nor of 2021, it’s shaping up as an impressive year to advance the work on achieving economy-wide decarbonization goals of 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

“This is probably not going to be a session filled with transformation legislation on climate change as 2019 and 2021 were, but there are some really good bills,” says Jacob Smith executive director of Colorado Communities for Climate Action, a coalition of 40 local governments.

Legislators are considering bills that seek to advance Colorado’s efforts to reduce emissions associated with buildings, clean up the crappy air quality along the northern Front Range, and bring the agriculture sector into the decarbonization effort.

Others address microgrids, the potential for carbon storage, and funding for the state’s Office of Just Transition, the agency crafted in 2019 for coal communities and workers to reinvent themselves.

Legislators in 2019 adopted a remarkable set of bills that essentially pivoted Colorado’s energy system in a way that had never been done. Most prominent were the economy wide decarbonization goals.

Only 2004, when Colorado voters adopted the first renewable energy portfolio standard, comes close to the same pivot in energy.

https://bigpivots.com/colorados-carrots-and-sticks-for-buildings/The 2019 tsunami was made possible by heightened worries about climate change but also a shift in the Colorado Senate that gave Democrats majorities in both chambers. This came concurrently with the arrival of Jared Polis as governor after his campaign on a platform of 100% renewable electricity by 2040.

Then came 2020—and the covid shutdown, followed by the flood of even more powerful bills in 2021, including several that targeted methane from extraction to end-use in buildings. At least one of the ideas adopted in 2021 had been first proposed in 2007 but never got close to the finish line.

Now is catch-up time, a filling in of the gaps.

“Last year we essentially had two legislative sessions in one, and we accomplished a lot, and now we need to work on the implementation of it,” says Mike Kruger, chief executive of Colorado Solar and Storage AssociationThat won’t require as much legislation,” he points out. “That’s more regulatory work.”

Still, even as they waited the governor’s signature on many of the 30-plus bills that had been passed, state legislators indicated they knew there was still major work ahead. State Sen. Steve Feinberg, then the majority leader (and now the Senate president), said a major priority in the 2022 session would be legislation to improve air quality along the Front Range. Sen. Chris Hansen said he was thinking about how to integrate agriculture into Colorado’s decarbonization.

In September, Hansen revealed at a fundraiser that he intended to introduce legislation that would set interim decarbonization targets for Colorado. Those new targets—for 2028 and for 2040—are intended to create a steady trajectory for Colorado’s decarbonization efforts, to avoid the tendency to punt the decarbonization can down the road until a last-night cram session before the test.

When did Hansen decide this was needed?

“I think it was part of what I do essentially every summer and fall, which is really try to think about the important gaps, where they are and which ones, if you were to address them, you’d get the most bang for the buck when it comes to decarbonization,” said Hansen in an interview.

“So I’m always trying to think about that supply curve, of carbon abatement opportunities, let’s do the cheapest, easiest ones as fast as we can. And that is really kind of driving my policy development process.”

Meanwhile, in Boulder, State Rep. Edie Hooton was thinking about microgrids, and in Longmont, Rep. Tracey Bernett was thinking about both air quality and buildings.

This week, the bills having to do with buildings.

See: Colorado’s carrots and sticks for buildings

Next week, air quality, agriculture and other bills.

Allen Best
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