Denver has now become the 10th, and largest, Colorado municipality to commit to 100 percent of its electricity being powered by renewable energy.
Mayor Michael Hancock announced the initiative at Monday’s State of the City address, then offered some details at a Tuesday news conference.
The goal is part of Denver’s new 2018 80×50 Climate Action Plan, which targets sectors with the highest greenhouse gas emissions and establishes a strategy to reduce those emissions by 80 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2050.
“While the White House has made a show of stepping back on this issue, it’s important to know that we listen to the people of our city; we listen to our stakeholders, and Denver can keep moving forward and we will remain committed,” Hancock said.
Aspen already uses 100 percent renewable energy sources to power the city, and Boulder, Breckenridge, Lafayette, Longmont, Nederland, the City and County of Pueblo, and Summit County have each committed to doing the same, according to the Sierra Club.
Denver currently ranks third in the nation for the worst urban heat island effect. Caused by human land uses like large paved areas, this effect causes Denver to heat up to 23 degrees hotter on average than nearby rural areas, according to the 2017 80×50 Climate Goal: Stakeholder Report. The report also says Denver can expect other climate impacts, such as increased frequency of extreme weather events, plus reduced snowpack and earlier snowmelt.
“This isn’t just an environmental issue. … It’s about health, it’s about equity, … it’s about community and it’s also a jobs issue,” Hancock said. “We took all that information and the science behind it, and we developed a pathway to get us to 80 percent reductions by 2050.”
Three sectors — buildings, transportation and electricity supply —make up 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Denver. The 80×50 plan involves a series of interim goals to reduce emissions in each sector.
For example, in 2025, all municipal buildings will use renewable electricity, Hancock pledged. By 2030, he said, the entire Denver community will use 100 percent renewable electricity.
In order to achieve this goal, Denver must work closely with Xcel Energy Colorado, Denver’s main electricity provider. In early March, Hancock and Xcel Energy Colorado president David Eaves signed the Energy Future Partnership, a formal commitment to collaborate as Denver pursues its renewable energy goals.
In August 2017, Xcel laid out a plan to draw 55 percent of its energy statewide from renewables by 2026, a proposal that is currently under review by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Right now, 44 percent of the electricity Xcel provides Denver comes from coal, while natural gas and renewable energy sources are almost equal, at 28 percent and 25 percent respectively, according to Xcel’s 2017 Annual Community Energy Report for Denver.
With Xcel’s 2026 target, Denver would already receive 55 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
“That allows us to chart a path to say, given what we know, what do we need for Denver to get to 100 percent?” said Thomas Herrod, climate and policy analyst for the city.
Although Denver will still receive 45 percent of its energy from non-renewable sources after 2030, it will implement enough other renewable energy and energy efficiency projects to achieve net-zero non-renewable energy use, Herrod said.
Many of these projects involve the building and transportation sectors, which will take until 2050 to reach their end goals, the city has said.
While Denver plans to reach 15 percent electric vehicle registrations in Denver by 2025, its goal is that all passenger vehicles, taxis and transportation network vehicles, such as Uber and Lyft, will be electric by 2050. The hope is that all public transportation will be carbon-free, and after infrastructure expansion, more commuters will depend on telecommuting, biking, walking or using public transit to get to work.
Denver’s population has also doubled since 1960, increased by nearly 25 percent since 2000, and was estimated at over 700,000 as of 2017.
While the city expands, low-income families are pushed farther out, said Jeff Su, executive director of Mile High Connects. The city is partnering with Mile High Connects, a collaborative of 23 grassroots or philanthropic organizations and financial institutions, to make sure that public transportation is affordable for low-income families.
“Families that are already spending 50 percent of their income on housing and transportation cannot afford any more increases on their energy bill as we make this shift to renewable energy,” Su said.
For four years, the city and Mile High Connects have been working on a low-income transit fare. In September, the Regional Transportation District board will be voting on a 40 percent discount for all families at 185 percent or below the federal poverty level, Su said, asking that city and community groups urge the RTD board to accept this low-income fare.
For building infrastructure, the plan includes six benchmarks, starting with a 15 percent reduction in energy use in commercial buildings by 2020, moving to a 20 percent reduction in residential homes, and ending with 50 percent reduction of energy use in commercial buildings in 2050. The plan also sets goals for reducing thermal heating emissions and making new buildings net zero energy.
This means more aggressive energy codes, incentives for new buildings, and a home-energy rating system for residential buildings so that owners, renters and potential buyers can make informed decisions about a home’s efficiency and operating costs, according to the Climate Action Plan.
Denver first began working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2007 when it released the 2007 Climate Action Plan and current governor and then-mayor John Hickenlooper, signed on to the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
In 2012, the city accomplished these goals when it reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent per capita relative to 2005 values. Then, in 2015, Denver released the first version of its 80×50 goal in its 2015 Climate Action Plan, followed by a two-year stakeholder input process that incorporated expertise from 44 different organizations.
In order to meet The 2020 Sustainability Goals, the first set of benchmarks in the city’s long-term plan, Denver has two years to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by about a million metric tons, from 12.79 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent to 11.8 mmtCO2e. and to meet a variety of consumption reduction targets and identified metrics for improving air quality, food, health and nine other quality of life categories.
“Let’s be clear, there’s a lot that needs to be done to get us there, but we have a lot to build on as well,” Hancock said, referring to the Energize Denver Program and plans to build more electric charging stations, bike paths, walking paths and more efficient public transportation.
“This plan shows that the tools to solve this generational challenge are available and affordable today.”