Colorado, Nevada leading energy-efficiency progress in Southwest, report finds

Efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation, buildings in the spotlight

By: - December 16, 2020 2:43 pm

An image of Denver captured on Aug. 14, 2020, by state air-quality regulators as part of visibility monitoring efforts. (CDPHE)

The southwestern United States continues to lag behind other regions in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, but Colorado and Nevada are among the states making the most progress, a new report from a national energy-efficiency group found.

Colorado ranked 11th among all states on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s annual scorecard, the highest ranking in the report’s Southwest/Mountain region and up from its 14th-place ranking in 2019. Nevada, ranked 21st, was the most improved state, moving up five places since last year’s ACEEE scorecard.

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“We’re thrilled that Colorado is really a regional leader in the scorecard today,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday during a virtual panel event on the report’s release. “There’s a lot of work to do, and I think I speak for most Coloradans when I say we’d like to be at the top of the list in the future.”

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, who also joined the panel, touted his state’s efforts to set greenhouse-gas emissions targets and promote adoption of energy-efficient building codes. Earlier this year, Nevada also announced plans to adopt a Zero Emissions Vehicle standard, a requirement that automakers sell a certain percentage of electric cars within the state, which Colorado joined 11 other states in enacting in 2019.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak speaks during Renew NV Coalition’s 2019 Clean Energy Scorecard. (Jeniffer Solis)

“Transportation is a sector that most of use depend upon, but unfortunately, it still seems to be the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions for many states in our nation, including our own in Nevada,” Sisolak said. “We plan to make this issue a priority, as we tackle it head on.”

Goal of 100% carbon-free electricity generation

State-level climate policy has taken on a new urgency over the last several years, as frustrations among clean-energy advocates mounted over congressional inaction and a wide range of environmental rollbacks pursued by the Trump administration. While there’s hope for new federal clean-energy investments and policy changes under President-elect Joe Biden, advocates with ACEEE and other groups say that state policy will be no less important — especially in states where progress towards renewable energy and stricter efficiency standards has been slow.

“A number of states see that they have to act aggressively now to cut carbon emissions, but others just aren’t acting urgently,” Steven Nadel, executive director of ACEEE, said in a statement. “We need to see more states follow the leaders here, and quickly. Aggressive state policies combating climate change are absolutely necessary no matter what gets done in Washington.”

Colorado and Nevada have both set a goal of 100% carbon-free electricity generation — by 2040 and 2050, respectively. Achieving the economy-wide emissions reductions that scientists say are necessary to avert the worst impacts of climate change, however, will require steep declines in emissions from other sectors, like transportation and building heating, over the same period.

While Colorado earned high marks from ACEEE for its efforts in the electric sector, its buildings policies were rated only slightly above the national median. Colorado’s cold climate — along with its powerful natural gas industry — pose difficulties for the transition to clean-heating technologies like electric heat pumps.

Colorado’s buildings are a 6 billion square-foot climate change problem

ACEEE’s report hailed California’s buildings-sector policies as a model for other states to follow, including its codes for net-zero buildings and a recently enacted requirement that rooftop solar panels be installed on new homes and apartment buildings.

Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission is tentatively scheduled to conduct a rulemaking on building energy use in late 2021. While Polis and the AQCC have been targeted by lawsuits from some environmental groups over delays in implementing Colorado’s greenhouse-gas targets, the governor defended his administration’s market-driven approach to the clean-energy transition during Wednesday’s ACEEE panel.

“The success is driven by a real collaborative approach in our state,” Polis said. “Innovative leadership from the private sector, local leadership, utilities, advocacy partners and of course a very strong commitment from my administration to move Colorado towards a clean-energy future.”

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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