Colorado could get 20% of its energy from solar power by 2025. That's according to a new report by Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the state's air, water and open spaces.
Kim Stevens, campaign director of the Denver-based advocacy group, says it is a lofty goal, given that solar power is currently less than 1% of electricity generation nationwide. Still, she maintains the solar increase is both possible and necessary.
‘We are feeling the effects of the changing climate – with drought and wildfires – and last year, we saw historic flooding,’ Stevens says. ‘Scientists say it will become more severe. We have the solution here, which is solar power. We know we can do more.’
The report authors cited statistics from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) noting that Colorado has more than 500,000 residential and commercial rooftops that could host solar panels. Also according to NREL, the sunny state has the technical potential to meet its energy needs 360 times over. At the end of 2013, Colorado was the eighth-ranked state in total installed solar capacity.
Adding to these positives, the price of solar has decreased, and the public's favorable opinion of solar has increased. That means, the report indicated, the obstacles to increasing solar power are systemic and political. Efforts to go solar have been pushed back by forces ranging from powerful fossil fuel interests, to local governments that have not made it easier for homeowners to install solar, to utilities not fully participating in solar efforts.
‘The technology is there,’ Stevens says. ‘We just need the policies to get the ball rolling and carve the way for solar.’
The report recommends that the state, municipalities and utilities should maintain strong net-metering programs, promote community solar and virtual net-metering, facilitate third-party sales of solar power for solar leasing programs, and invest in a more intelligent electric grid that will enable distributed solar to play a larger role.
Also, the report says, the U.S. federal government should commit to a baseline goal of obtaining at least 10% of the nation's electricity from solar energy by 2030. The government should do this by continuing to install solar on government buildings and also by building solar on public lands. The government should also strengthen and finalize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan, which proposes to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30% from 2005 levels.
There are many different tools that can help states attain carbon reduction goals, Stevens says. ‘Here in Colorado, the huge solar potential would help us to get our state more than halfway to the benchmark that the EPA sets.’
Stevens acknowledges that November was an interesting time to release the report because there was no relevant pending legislation that might move the state toward the solar or the Clean Power Plan goals. Still, Environment Colorado hopes legislators will take note. ‘We are trying to get the state government to commit to this goal,’ she says.
Environment Colorado has been working with small business owners, local elected officials, farmers and ranchers to call on state officials.
‘We have been doing the groundwork,’ Stevens says. ‘The next step is working with the governor's office and with the legislature.’
The report, ‘Star Power: The Growing Role of Solar Energy in Colorado,’ by Judee Burr and Lindsey Hallock, from the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based research firm Frontier Group; and Rob Sargent from Environment America, a group of state-based environmental advocacy organizations, is available here.
Nora Caley is a freelance writer based in Denver.