Black Hills Energy latest Colorado utility to announce plan to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2030

Black Hills Energy is the latest Colorado electric utility to announce a goal of significant emission reductions by 2030, stoking Gov. Jared Polis’ confidence that the state can meet its goals for decreasing pollution and increasing use of renewable energy.

Polis joined Vance Crocker, Black Hills Energy vice president for Colorado Utilities, for Thursday’s announcement that the company will voluntarily file a plan with state regulators to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% by 2030. Black Hills Energy expects to start construction later this year on a 200-megawatt solar project in Pueblo County.

“Now we have over 99% of the power generated in our state under a plan to reduce emissions by 80% within nine years,” Polis said after the announcement.

A bill passed in 2019 set statewide goals of cutting climate-changing emissions by at least 26% by 2025; at least 50% by 2030; and 90% by 2050. The targeted reductions are from the levels in 2005.

The goals are part of the Polis administration’s plan to put Colorado on a path to clean energy. Polis said the final version of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap will be released next week. The proposal looks at cutting emissions from power plants as well as boosting the number of electric vehicles on the roads.

Polis also has a goal of making Colorado’s electric grid fossil-fuel-free by 2040.

Some environmental organizations want to see more specific details in the roadmap to ensure the state is doing all it needs to do to deal with climate change. An ongoing drought and large wildfires late last year, including the largest in Colorado’s history, have focused even more attention on addressing the problem.

Xcel Energy-Colorado, the state’s largest electric utility, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which provides wholesale power to rural electric associations, have proposed cutting their carbon emissions 80% by 2030. They have closed coal-fired power plants in Colorado and plan to shutter more earlier than anticipated

Black Hills Energy said it has added three wind farms in southern Colorado since closing its last coal plant in the state nine years ago. The company, based in Rapid City, S.D., has about 290,000 customers in 119 Colorado communities,

“I expect that this will be a real win for Colorado jobs, for ratepayers, for the environment,” Polis said of all the utilities’ plans. “There are a lot of details that go into these, so there are a lot of final details to be worked out.

“But I’m very optimistic that these will be approved through the (Public Utilities Commission) and will work for Colorado and will lock in our climate wins,” Polis added.

Erin Overturf, deputy director of Western Resource Advocates’ Clean Energy Program, said the announcement by Black Hills Energy is welcome news, but the public likely won’t see the details of the utility’s plan until 2022. She noted that utilities across Colorado, including individual rural electric associations and municipal utilities, have announced an array of proposals.

“Those announcements and those signals of utilities’ intent are obviously a great first step,” Overturf said. “What will happen now is really needing to dig into the details of each of these plans to make sure that they’ll actually achieve the emissions reductions that are expected.”

Overturf said it’s important to see if there are opportunities to cut more emissions in the near term. She’s not confident that Colorado will realize the milestones in the legislation and the governor’s roadmap.

“Unfortunately, to date, we’re not on track. There’s still a pretty substantial gap between our current trajectory and both the 2025 and 2030 emission reduction targets that were established. What that means is we’ve really got to get to work,” Overturf said.

A recent analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund of several states’ action on climate change criticizes the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission for what it says is its refusal “to seriously evaluate policy mechanisms for much faster and deeper reductions,” flying in the face of the 2019 legislation.

In September, the air commission approved a rule thought to be the first of its kind in the country that requires tracking emissions from oil and gas sites from the start of well construction through production. Critics said more structure and specific criteria are needed.

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