Colorado should boost energy efficiency policies, investments

A photo from my drive through the San Luis Valley at sunset in February.

Efficiency is cheapest, fastest way to protect Colorado from climate danger while lowering utility bills and promoting economic growth. I love the Rocky Mountains, so protecting Colorado is close to my heart.


Colorado has made strides in reducing energy waste, but the state can invest in more energy efficiency to lower utility bills, drive economic growth and fight climate change.

So say a diverse group of businesses and organizations, including NRDC, in a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper urging a far more ambitious energy-efficiency agenda.

Colorado, with a few common energy-efficiency initiatives, could fully meet its 2030 carbon-reduction targets under the federal Clean Power Plan, the letter points out. Along with cost-competitive renewable energy, the state could cut emissions even further.

With an annual energy-savings target of 1.5 percent, stronger building codes that promote energy efficiency and increased use of combined heat and power, Coloradans can keep 15 million metric tons of carbon pollution out of the air in 2030, equivalent to removing 3 million cars from the road for a year.

Those simple measures also would save consumers $1.5 billion on their electric bills and cut other harmful emissions, including 162,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 128,000 tons of sulfur dioxide by 2030.

The letter was signed by businesses and organizations ranging from Dow Chemical to NRDC, underscoring the strong support for energy efficiency. In a poll conducted for NRDC, 62 percent of Colorado residents said it was "extremely important" to expand programs that encourage smarter energy use, such as home insulation and more efficient appliances.

Smarter energy use has become more urgent with climate change threatening to bring stronger storms, harsher droughts and rising temperatures to Colorado, cause health problems and damage communities and the state's economy.

A study prepared for NRDC and the nonprofit group Protect Our Winters projected that lower snowfall could cost Colorado $150 million annually in tourism revenue and eliminate 1,900 jobs.

Efficiency remains a critical and cost effective opportunity for states following the U.S. Supreme Court putting on hold the federal Clean Power Plan, which will limit carbon pollution from power plants, the leading source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. NRDC is confident EPA's plan will withstand legal challenges. In the meantime, states should step up their energy efficiency efforts.

Colorado already has demonstrated the significant benefits of efficiency initiatives, such the utility-savings targets and mortgage discounts offered for efficient homes and renovations.

But there remains a huge untapped potential.

Colorado ranked twelfth on the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy 2015 scorecard. Ahead of most states in the region, it still lags California, Oregon and Washington.

Opportunities abound to achieve far greater energy savings and pollution cuts through measures such as improvement of building energy codes, residential retrofit financing programs, and use of energy savings performance contracts to make buildings more energy efficient.

The nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and the Golden, Colo.-based Energy Efficiency Business Coalition last year outlined in a separate memo other efficiency measures that Colorado and its utilities should take, such as establishing energy efficiency goals for all utilities and implementing a utility rate structure known as ``decoupling'' to remove a key disincentive for utilities to invest in energy efficiency programs.

An NRDC study showed that a carbon-cutting plan that relied heavily on energy efficiency investments could generate 2,700 efficiency-related jobs in Colorado.

In his 2013 State of the State address, Hickenlooper declared: ``We can reduce carbon emissions, create good-paying jobs and still protect the environment.''

The fastest, cheapest way to do it: energy efficiency.


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