Here in Colorado, you don’t have to look far to see for yourself the serious impact climate change is having on our state. But amid the many causes for concern about our planet’s climate, including the worst drought in 1,200 years in the West, wildfires, record high temperatures, and a significant setback at the Supreme Court, we should also recognize some reasons to feel hopeful as we work to translate Colorado leadership into national action.
I remain optimistic because Colorado continues to build on our position as a national leader on climate. We’ve made great strides in the past few years, including Clean Heat Plans for utilities (SB21-264); Clean Energy Plans to achieve 100% carbon free electricity by 2050 (HB19-1313); requiring electric utilities to join an organized wholesale market by 2030 and creating the Colorado Electric Transmission Authority (SB21-072); and setting a goal of one million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. This year in the legislature we passed SB22-051, HB22-1362, and HB22-1249 which will incentivize heat pump technology and green building materials, create model building codes, fund grant programs to incentivize building electrification, and work to reduce air pollution for the health and safety of Coloradans. Additionally, a grid resilience and reliability roadmap, including guidance on microgrids, will be developed. In Colorado we have recognized the difference that state-led action can make for our nation.
At this critical time, another source of progress comes from an unexpected place: Washington, D.C. Late last year, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, America’s largest-ever investment in clean energy infrastructure. That funding is now flowing to states.
The legislation provides more than $21 billion to deliver clean energy; an additional $8.6 billion for clean energy manufacturing and workforce development, and another $6.5 billion to weatherize homes and buildings for efficiency.
For Colorado to continue to lead, we must make the most of these resources, recognizing that infrastructure investments can have a positive impact on our planet when done thoughtfully. We know that just building more roads will not accomplish the goal of reducing global climate impacts and the extreme weather that we experience as a result.
I’m a member of the national organization, NewDEAL, which convenes innovative elected officials and experts to identify solutions to our biggest challenges, and we are working on a roadmap for maximizing the benefits of the infrastructure law for our planet. It’s vital that leaders in Colorado, and across the country, are ambitious and opportunistic, bringing together state and local officials to work together, while also leveraging private sector partnerships to unlock more investment which SB22-130 helps us to accomplish.
And we can start taking advantage of this opportunity immediately. At the end of March, the Department of Energy announced it is accepting applications for more than $3 billion from its Weatherization Assistance Program. In Colorado, that funding can help low-income households with upgrades that will reduce energy costs while making homes warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Improvements might include installing insulation; updating heating and cooling systems; and upgrading electrical appliances. Nationwide, homeowners can save nearly $400 per year after weatherization assistance.
There is also $2.5 billion available to allow the Department of Energy to support, through loans and capacity contracts, transmission projects across the United States. An interconnected grid system will be crucial in advancing efforts to decarbonize the electricity sector.
In addition, the Department of Energy will join with the Department of Transportation to build out the nation’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The Biden administration will focus on “filling gaps in rural, disadvantaged, and hard-to-reach locations,” meaning Colorado could be a nationwide leader in making our state accessible to electric cars and trucks.
Another $5 billion will help localities purchase electric school buses rather than diesel ones. While electric buses may cost more initially, they save our school districts money in the long run, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and keep harmful pollutants out of our air and away from our children.
I’m optimistic we will make the most of this moment, in part because Colorado has not been waiting around for this funding. In January, Gov. Polis joined the Building Performance Standards Coalition, announced by the White House to create policies and regulations that make new buildings more efficient and generate less emissions. Colorado joined with Washington State and more than 30 cities to share best practices for a greener future.
In April, a new climate report from an international group of scientists showed our planet is “on a fast track to climate disaster,” according to U.N. General Secretary António Guterres. Our state must take full advantage of new opportunities to make a difference. If we want our children to enjoy clean water, clean air, and Colorado’s beautiful outdoors, then we must invest in clean energy now. Despite the urgency and severity of the climate crisis, I still hold on to hope that we can meet this moment together.
Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat, represents District 31 in the Colorado Senate.