Gov. Polis signs slate of clean energy measures, utility regulation bill
Tax credits, streamlined permitting for clean-energy technologies become law; future of natural gas scrutinized
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks during a signing ceremony for Senate Bill 23-16, meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at the Denver Botanic Gardens on May 11, 2023. Members of Girl Scout Troop 67358, who testified in favor of the bill, listen. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday signed into law a bill that commits Colorado for the first time to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target, along with other measures to address spiking utility rates and the state’s long-term energy future.
Flanked by Democratic lawmakers and state energy officials, Polis signed Senate Bill 23-16 at an event at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The bill, a wide-ranging package of reforms aimed at boosting clean energy efforts in a variety of industries, was approved on party-line votes by Democratic majorities in the General Assembly just before its adjournment on May 8.
Polis also signed House Bill 23-1252, which establishes a new state grant program for geothermal energy projects and requires large natural-gas utilities to develop emissions-reducing “clean heat plans.”
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“Coloradans are demanding action,” state Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat and a sponsor of both bills, said in a statement. “With these new laws, we are tackling this challenge head on by reducing emissions through innovative technology and setting reasonable and achievable goals.”
SB-16 sets a statutory goal of a 100% reduction in Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, revising that target upwards from a 90% goal set by the Legislature in 2019. It’s the first time the state has formally established the net-zero goal that scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have said is necessary to avert the most catastrophic impacts of global warming.
To get there, the bill contains what sponsors called a “potpourri” of measures to accelerate the transition to clean energy, including sections that streamline the process for the installation of electric transmission lines and rooftop solar panels; stricter requirements on large insurance companies to assess climate risk; tax credits for the purchase of electric-powered lawn equipment; and more authority for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to regulate carbon capture projects.
COGCC chair Jeff Robbins applauded the bill’s efforts to encourage carbon capture, which he called “critical as a tool in addressing climate change.”
“The COGCC is well poised with its resources and regulatory understanding to now help carbon storage be deployed safely and responsibly in Colorado,” Robbins said in a press release.
A ‘national model’ for utility regulation
Earlier on Thursday, Polis also put his signature Senate Bill 23-291, a package of reforms to state utility regulations, and House Bill 23-1234, a bipartisan measure aimed at streamlining permitting and inspection processes for solar projects.
SB-291 emerged from hearings held earlier this year by the Joint Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates, a special panel of lawmakers convened by Democratic leaders following sharp increases in many Coloradans’ utility bills in 2022.
It directs the state’s Public Utilities Commission to more closely scrutinize how privately-owned utilities manage volatility in natural-gas prices, the main culprit in rate increases that caused the average monthly payment for customers of Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, to rise by more than 50% last year. Other provisions in the bill are aimed at assessing the long-term future of natural gas infrastructure as more homes and businesses transition to all-electric heating and cooking appliances.
In a press release, Advanced Energy United, an industry group representing clean energy companies, said the legislation creates a “national model” for dealing with volatility in the natural gas market.
“This bill will help make Colorado’s energy system more affordable long-term, and should be seen as a model for states across the country on how to manage high gas prices and a transition to cost-saving alternatives to gas, like high-efficiency heat pumps, rooftop solar and battery storage,” said Emilie Olson, a senior principal at Advanced Energy United.
Later on Thursday Polis was also scheduled to sign House Bill 23-1272, which would create or extend a variety of clean energy tax credits, including incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles, e-bikes, electric heat pumps, industrial decarbonization technologies and more.
“These exciting money-saving changes for Coloradans mean reliable, lower energy costs and good-paying jobs, as we continue to fuel the innovation that makes Colorado a national leader in clean energy,” Polis said in a statement. “We are cutting red tape, creating good paying jobs and improving air quality as we continue to make bold progress towards achieving 100% renewable energy by 2040.”
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