Colorado is ahead of many states and the US when it comes to renewable energy sources, with nearly two-thirds predicted to come from wind and solar by 2030. Energy experts say the speed at which a state can build its renewable energy portfolio depends on the cost of building and maintaining those power sources.
President Joe Biden’s administration said based on a recently released report that 40% of the country’s electricity could come from solar power within the next 15 years. When Biden visits the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Arvada campus on Tuesday, he is expected to speak about investing billions to combat climate change as part of his Build Back Better agenda.
While Colorado likely won’t hit the federal 40% solar mark—even until 2050—it will almost certainly pass the 40% renewable mark by the end of the decade, according to Noah Long, who runs the nonprofit is the director of the Western Region for Natural. Resource Defense Council’s Climate and Energy Program.
“By 2030, I think you’ll see 60% to 70% renewable energy,” Long said. “The question is how it is split between wind and solar.”
The state is well positioned in both categories, said NREL senior energy analyst Robert Margolis, enough for Colorado to play a large or even “outside” role in the nationwide push for renewable energy.
“It’s centrally located and has land near it,” Margolis said. “It could play an important role.”
Long’s predictions appear to be in line with the Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, which says 68% of the state’s energy could come from renewables by 2030 – 17% from solar and 51% from wind. By 2050, about 85% of the state’s electricity could come from renewable sources (about 58% wind and 27% solar).
But according to Keith Hay, director of utility policy for the Colorado Office of Energy, the state’s goal isn’t to invest so much in solar or wind as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the most affordable and equitable way.
Electric utilities need to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% by 2030 from 2005 levels by 2030, said Colorado Energy Director Will Toor, and to do so “largely by retiring old and expensive coal plants and replacing them.” By replacing that with wind and solar and battery storage.”
Late last month, Colorado Springs Utilities switched from coal to natural gas at the Martin Drake Power Plant, though the utility will still burn coal at a plant southeast of the city until 2029.
“When we retire with[the Ray Nixon plant]we leave the door open to meeting our future needs,” said Colorado Springs Utilities Alex Baird. “We want to leave it open so we can get the most economical generation for our city. Could be solar. Could be wind… could be anything but thermal (like coal or natural gas).”
About 6% of Colorado Springs utilities’ electricity comes from solar, but that will double once a new solar array is launched in 2023—meaning the utility will generate more than a quarter of its electricity with renewable energy.
“I don’t think we’re stopping there,” Baird said.
If Biden’s administration pushes more states, utilities and companies toward renewables as indicated in a recent report, Hay and Toor said the cost of installing wind and solar infrastructure is likely to drop. Toor said this could accelerate existing plans in Colorado and perhaps even lower electricity costs for customers.
The US Department of Energy announced in March that it wanted to cut costs further to encourage more investment in the construction of new solar arrays, from about $0.046 per kilowatt-hour to $0.02 per kilowatt-hour of solar power by 2030. will have to pay for.
Colorado still has a dozen coal plants online, and Long notes that Xcel Energy’s Comanche 3 power station near Pueblo is “Colorado’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.” The state’s largest utility, Xcel, plans to completely shut down the plant by 2040.