Armond Cohen

 Armond Cohen

Policy makers in Denver, D.C., and across the country are looking for ways to make the transition to 100% clean energy to address climate change and improve our environment.

Colorado was among the first few states in the nation to set a target to provide carbon-free power by mid-century.

But we need to do that in a way that’s affordable. And there, Colorado can lead again.

Rich Powell

Rich Powell

The state’s immense wind and solar resources give it a head start. Xcel Energy, for example, already provides nearly 30% of its power in Colorado from wind and solar, and aims to build a lot more. In fact it has recently announced that 80% of the power it delivers by 2030 will come from renewables.

But, a fundamental question remains on the path to 100% clean — what happens during the weeks and months (not just days), when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind blows very little? While battery technology improves every year to help address these challenges, most major studies agree that we’ll need other technologies — mainly ones that operate 24/7/365 — to get us all the way to 100% clean affordably and reliably. Today, the International Energy Agency (IEA) believes only two of 14 critical new power sector technologies are on track to deploy at the needed rate. 

Congress took a huge step towards providing answers to this question back in December, committing to next-generation clean energy technologies by financing the demonstration of long duration storage, enhanced geothermal, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture, and enhanced geothermal. This includes up to 20 new large-scale demonstration projects. Where these units are built, who benefits from the job creation, and what state benefits from becoming the first to capture the market opportunity is up in the air. States offering to share the cost of these demonstrations are likely to be first in line for benefits from these new advanced energy projects.

We are not talking about research and development, but early steel in the ground. Meanwhile, chances remain high that an even more advanced new generation of clean technologies will be created in an American national laboratory — maybe even at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden.

It can take decades to translate discovery into commercially competitive products. Congress’ commitment to demonstrating the new technologies is key — there remains a “valley of death” between demonstration and commercialization. Driving down the costs of new technologies is the only way to ensure new, clean and sustainable energy generation is built. Legislation that encourages this process will not only help keep Colorado’s energy system clean and reliable, but also would help make Colorado more attractive for national demonstrations of technology — in turn, making Colorado the hub of the clean energy sector.

One such approach to helping Colorado claim this future is House Bill 21-1324, the Promote Innovative and Clean Energy Technologies act, introduced in the legislature this month. HB21-1324 would allow regulated utilities to seek limited rate recovery for innovation demonstrations of 24/7 advanced clean energy technologies — including long-duration storage systems, enhanced geothermal and other advanced renewables, carbon-free hydrogen production, utilization of natural gas while capturing and sequestering carbon emissions, and advanced nuclear energy.

The bill also encourages state-federal partnerships, giving the public utility commission authority to prioritize proposals from regulated utility entities that have also received a federal cost-share. These targeted, state-appropriate, cost-shared proposals spread the burden and risk for innovative technology demonstrations across federal taxpayers and state ratepayers while prioritizing job creation in energy transition communities like coal communities.

Between Colorado’s abundant lands, renewable and fossil resources; innovation leadership in the great universities and NREL; and commitments to clean energy from utilities and policy makers, the state stands uniquely positioned to build an energy innovation ecosystem across multiple technologies, and reap the benefits in jobs, investment, and corporate and manufacturing location to take advantage of the state’s clean power. Ensuring Colorado offers “skin in the game” will help prioritize local problem-solving on siting, permitting, and ensuring strong state support and social license for the projects.

Achieving 100% clean energy at an affordable cost is one of the grand challenges of this century. With the right policies in place, Colorado can lead the way.

Armond Cohen is co-founder and executive director of the Clean Air Task Force. Rich Powell is executive director of ClearPath Action. 

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