Ten years ago, Colorado became the first state with a voter-approved renewable energy standard. And in 2010, then-Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a bill requiring larger utilities to get 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. That law has forced many electricity producers to switch from coal to natural gas.
Colorado has "led the nation over the past decade in confronting this challenge," Sen. Mark Udall said in a statement Monday praising the state's carbon emissions work in advance of the proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Even as the federal government held up Colorado as a model, it proposed a standard Colorado may not be on track to meet. The plan calls for Colorado to reduce its carbon emissions by more than 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. It wasn't immediately clear whether Colorado's existing laws would enable the state to meet that benchmark.
"There's still a lot to be clarified," said Dustin Zvonek, Colorado director of the group Americans For Prosperity, which warns the EPA's rules would cost billions and lead to higher energy costs. Zvonek said Colorado's action to cut carbon emissions may have only prompted an even lower bar to meet.
"Are we going to be penalized or punished for the fuel-switching standard and therefore take an even bigger hit? That's not clear," Zvonek said.
Currently, Colorado has 12 coal plants and gets almost 66 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants. Colorado gets about 20 percent of its electricity from natural gas, with the rest coming from wind and other sources.
The state is also a producer of coal, though production has slumped. Last year, Colorado coal production hit a 20-year low of 23.8 million tons from nine mines, according to the federal Energy Information Agency.
Denver will host one of four hearings scheduled on the EPA's proposed air regulations, scheduled for July 29.