This week, the solar industry held a conference in Denver during which plans to get Colorado on 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 inevitably came up.
Democrats Jared Polis, the congressman from Boulder, and Mike Johnston, a former state senator, have made such a proposal key tenets of their respective campaigns as they run for governor in a wide-open primary.
At the Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center on Tuesday, some of their Democratic and Republican rivals threw some shade on those ambitious plans.
“It’s important that we don’t look at bold promises and take them at face value,” said businessman Noel Ginsburg, according to the Denver Business Journal. “Experts I met with … said it’s not possible to do by 2040, so let’s bring forward candidates who have sound policies based on science and facts and not just what we want to hear.”
Democratic Lt. Gov Donna Lynne “pointed to work done by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration to support renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions,” the DBJ reported. She added, “That’s the kind of governor you want, who is not just going to say that ‘I have an aspiration.'”
In 2015, Aspen became the third U.S. city to reach 100 percent renewable energy, currently receiving all its energy from wind farms, hydroelectricity, and biogas. The city council in Pueblo, a place that already has community solar gardens, voted to try and reach the same goal by 2035; Breckenridge is also shooting for that goal. Longmont wants to get there by 2030 and so does Boulder.
Curbing the globe’s rising temperature was a goal among 195 countries as part of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. Last June, after Republican President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from that agreement, five mayors in Colorado said they would do what they could themselves to help stop the global average temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius, which is 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. There is also a proposed new law in this year’s legislature to update Colorado’s energy standard to require that all electric utilities derive their energy from one hundred percent renewable sources by 2035. If you’re interested in the national debate over 100 percent renewable energy, Vox has a handy beginner’s guide.
The Sierra Club recently commissioned polling in swing states and found 68 percent of registered voters in Colorado support setting a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2030. “Democrats are nearly unanimous in their support,” the poll found, “and fully seven in 10 independents are on board as well.” The poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, had a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval.
As part of our questionnaire to candidates for governor, we asked: Do you think it’s feasible for Colorado to meet 100 percent of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2040?
Five Republicans running for governor, including Doug Robinson, Victor Mitchell, Lew Gaiter, Greg Lopez and Steve Barlock, said ‘no.’
Robinson, a retired investment banker, said he supports an all-of-the-above energy strategy including renewables, “but oil and gas production is a critical part of our economy and it is not the role of government to pick winners and losers.”
Lopez, the former mayor of Parker, said, he believes diversification of resources and assets “remains the most prudent approach to the maximization of energy resources in Colorado.”
Barlock, the Denver co-chair of Trump’s campaign, said “Tyrannical measures and expensive subsides are not the answer to Colorado’s energy needs,” but rather the state should work with all available energy sources including increasing hydroelectric power, “the original green energy which also provides storage and steady flows for our water needs, as well as maintaining use of clean coal, oil and gas in accordance with a free market to ensure abundant inexpensive energy.”
On the Democratic side, Ginsburg said he did not think 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 is feasible, and Johnston and Erik Underwood said it is. Polis said that goal is “absolutely achievable,” and doing so “won’t just help fight climate change and preserve our air and water for future generations; it will also create thousands of good-paying Colorado jobs that can never be outsourced.”
Lynne and former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy did not answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ directly. Lynne said she strongly supports a transition to 100 percent renewable energy, but added she did not want to place an “arbitrary deadline” on that transition. “If there is a reasonable path to accomplish this goal by 2040, then I would be supportive,” she said. “As the transition to renewable energy continues, we must deal with the issue of job losses in the parts of our state that are dependent on traditional fossil fuels.”
Kennedy said Colorado “can get close to 100 percent renewables,” but long-term aspirational goals aren’t enough. “What we do in the next 5-plus years will be critical for Colorado’s transition to clean, renewable sources of energy,” she said, adding the state must increase the Renewable Energy Standard in order for Colorado to meet and exceed the goals laid out in the Paris agreement. We can also take action now by guaranteeing 100 percent consumer choice so that any Coloradan can get 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources if they choose to do so.”
Johnston said while his campaign our proposal focuses on getting Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy on the electric grid, he says he believes it will also help increase renewable energy usage in other areas “such as expanding the use of electric vehicles that will plug into a renewable grid.”
Read more remarks by the candidates on this issue and others here.