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Why Colorado Needs Urgent Investments in Solar + Storage

Thursday, Oct 31 2019

Kevin Lucas

colorado solar storage

Thirteen states have either passed legislation or issued executive orders that will fully decarbonize the state’s electricity supply in the coming years. At the same time, states like New York, California, and New Jersey have established economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals.

Colorado has done both. Earlier this year, Governor Polis signed into law several bills that will advance clean energy across the electricity, transportation, and building and construction sectors. For example, Senate Bill 19-236 requires Colorado’s utilities to provide its customers with 100% clean energy by 2050 and House Bill 19-1261 establishes a state-wide goal to reduce GHG emissions 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Governor Polis has also issued an executive roadmap seeking to attain 100% renewable electricity by 2040.

Now that these goals have been established, the real work must begin.

Most experts agree that meeting ambitious decarbonization goals will require massive and rapid deployment of solar, wind and energy storage. We’ll also need to pair renewable energy with the electrification of our transportation and building sector and dramatically strengthen the flexibility of the power grid to respond to intermittent supply resources and variable demand.

Fortunately, Colorado is starting from a good position. Originally implemented in 2004, Colorado has a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) that requires its utilities to attain 30% renewable energy by 2020, of which 3% must come from distributed generation systems. These programs are funded in part through the already-established Renewable Energy Standard Adjustment (RESA). The Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo), Colorado’s largest utility, must also follow these rules and has consistently met its RES requirement.

However, moving from 30% renewable energy to 100% renewable energy cannot be accomplished by simply continuing past efforts. Unfortunately, this is exactly what PSCo proposed to do in its RES plan that is currently up for review and approval.

To correct this, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and its local affiliate the Colorado Solar and Storage Association (COSSA) filed testimony with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on PSCo’s plan. The pair argued that PSCo should establish more aggressive on-site solar deployment targets while substantially ramping up its investments in distributed solar + storage projects. RESA has almost $50 million at the ready for renewable energy programs that can be used to cover additional costs of our proposal.

While 2030 and 2050 may seem far into the future, it’s actually a very short period of time to completely transform Colorado’s energy economy. Practically speaking, there are only a few technologies that can produce enough zero-carbon energy to hit Colorado’s electricity goals in a safe, cost-effective and timely manner. Solar is one such resource, but you cannot just calculate the amount of new renewable energy that is needed, divide by 10, and hope that installing this number of megawatts each year will produce success in 2030.

Colorado will also need to consider land use issues, explore potential grid upgrades, and incorporate storage at the residential and utility scale sooner rather than later. This transformation will also require cross-sector cooperation and may need a variety of other state and federal policy considerations, such as an extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit, to meet the RES.

To start, PSCo should facilitate the installation of more than 2,500 new solar + storage systems over the next two years, which will enable PSCo to gain valuable experience on how customers naturally respond to tariff-based prices provided to these systems. This approach can prevent the need for the utility to install — and charge customers—for expensive, unnecessary information technology systems needed to control the batteries. These installations will also create new careers in the growing solar + storage industry and prepare the state for the coming influx of solar + storage.

Action on Colorado’s goals must start today. We cannot wait two years to begin our work as the current plan intends. Instead, the Colorado Public Service Commission should adopt our proposal and direct PSCo to substantially increase near-term deployment of distributed solar + storage systems.

While this action is just a down payment on the total quantity of renewable energy needed, it represents a solid first step towards the challenge that awaits.

SEIA will continue to work with COSSA, the PSCo, and many other stakeholders on these issues for years to come.

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