Moving To 100 Percent Renewables By 2040 Could Cost Colorado Billions
Colorado’s transition to 100 percent renewable energy by the 2040s could cost as much as $45 billion, or more than $32,000 for a family of four, according to a new report released by the Denver-based free market think tank Independence Institute.
The study, commissioned by the Independence Institute and conducted by Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA), evaluates two possible paths to 100 percent renewable energy generation by 2040, a goal offered by two Colorado Democratic gubernatorial candidates running in 2018.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and former Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston have both announced plans to move the state to the renewable energy goal in just over two decades.
“We commissioned the study because no one was asking these candidates how they would implement such a plan and the candidates themselves haven’t provided many details,” said Independence Institute Executive Vice President Amy Cooke, in a statement on the report’s release. Cooke also directs the Institute’s energy and environmental policy center.
EVA, based in Virginia, focuses on electric power, oil and gas, coal, renewables, and environmental analysis. In one version, that would mean “predominantly industrial wind and utility scale solar with some rooftop solar.”
“The $44,880,000,000 figure represents the cost of adding the necessary wind and solar capacity, utility scale battery storage, and retiring the state’s entire coal and natural gas fleet,” according to the report. “Not included within the scope of the study are transmission costs, land acquisition costs, nor reclamation of retired sites, which are believed would add billions of dollars more.”
The same week Polis entered the race in June with a 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 platform, another Democrat, former Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston, launched his own vision for the same goal in a YouTube video. Johnston declared his candidacy in January.
Johnston has said that natural gas developed through hydraulic fracturing will provide a bridge to his 100 percent goal.
“Drilling it safely will allow us to use natural gas as a bridge to get to 100 percent renewable energy,” he said in July.
In August, Polis said Colorado is “in a great place as a state” in terms of its energy sector. Polis was speaking at an event sponsored by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry.
“We have a robust energy sector in Colorado, oil and gas, solar, wind,” said Polis, including “the next generation of and future advances in oil and gas extraction, as well as renewable energy.”
According to the report, a full conversion to 100 percent renewables would be “land intensive”—with industrial wind capacity requiring up to 1.36 million acres, an area the size of Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, and Jefferson counties combined. The report notes that the land estimates are conservative, given the need to position wind turbines across varying landscapes, property lines, and other siting concerns. Those estimates range from 49 to 150 acres per MW.
“Indeed, the figures above effectively assume that all wind and solar projects in Colorado would be built on flat, contiguous expanses offering high quality resources. In reality, wind and solar projects are developed across topographically diverse tracts of land, only a portion of which is suitable for project development. Thus, in practice, the required land area is far greater than the technical minimums,” the report says.
The report’s second option provides a lower cost alternative to reaching the 100 percent renewable portfolio through the purchasing of out-of-state Renewable Energy Credits. This would move the state, on paper, towards its goal for around $2.25 billion, while still allowing the state to draw on coal and natural gas-fired electricity generation for the bulk of the next two decades.
However, Cooke said, using RECs to approach or achieve the goal would be “intellectually dishonest.”
“When people hear ‘100 percent renewable’ they think it’s coming from energy produced locally and that their money stays here,” Cooke said.
While either option represents billions of dollars in taxpayer and ratepayer expenditures, going for the full conversion is also a morally irresponsible plan, according to Cooke.
“Nearly $45 billion and millions of acres of land to satisfy green fantasies on the backs of low income Coloradans is morally reprehensible. These promises are dangerous and economically and environmentally reckless. Voters need to know that their wallets will be much lighter and their view sheds altered under a Governor Polis or Johnston,” Cooke added.