Equilibrium & Sustainability

Conservation group calls out Colorado’s coal consumption

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Steam is emitted from smokestacks at a coal-fired power plant on Nov. 17, 2021, in Craig, Colo.

Colorado is failing to keep pace with many of its neighbors in the shift toward a renewable energy economy — with coal remaining the state’s dominant source of electricity generation, a new analysis has found.

The carbon-rich combustible is responsible for 37 percent of the state’s power, compared to the national average of 20 percent, according to a Center for Biological Diversity analysis of new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

“Sadly, the data reveals Colorado is still running on dirty fuels that continue to harm our health and spoil the state’s natural splendor,” Robert Ukeiley, an environmental health attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

In addition to maintaining a reliance on coal, Colorado also generates less renewable energy than many other nearby states, the analysis found.

For example, although the Centennial State has 2 million more residents than Utah, Colorado generated less solar power than its western neighbor in 2022.

Colorado produced just 3,780 gigawatt-hours of electricity from solar in 2022, fueling 6 percent of the state’s power supply, according to the EIA data.

Meanwhile, Utah produced 4,616 gigawatt-hours from solar, or 12 percent of the state’s electricity.

As far as wind energy is concerned, this resource only accounted for 29 percent of Colorado’s electricity generation, or 16,706 gigawatt-hours, in 2022, the Center for Biological Diversity analysis noted.

In comparison, Iowa generated almost three times as much at 44,664 gigawatt-hours, which accounted for 63 percent of the state’s power supply.

Other states in the region also outperformed Colorado in statewide share of electricity fueled by wind: 55 percent in South Dakota, 37 percent in North Dakota, 47 percent in Kansas, 44 percent in Oklahoma, 35 percent in New Mexico and 31 percent in Nebraska, the analysis found. 

In addition to Colorado’s heavy reliance on coal, the state last year depended on natural gas for 29 percent of its electricity generation, according to the data.

The ongoing combustion of both coal and gas generates soot and sulfur dioxide pollution that increases the risk of illness to Coloradans, the Center for Biological Diversity stated.

This continued burning of fossil fuels also damages wildlife and trees, while creating “unsightly haze in places like Rocky Mountain National Park,” the statement added.

Ukeiley, the environmental health attorney, accused Colorado’s current administration — led by Gov. Jared Polis (D) — of both “making excuses” and hoping that the state’s “energy will be cleaner in the future.”

“The people, forests and wildlife of Colorado can’t hold their breath for years and years,” Ukeiley said.

In response to the Center for Biological Diversity analysis, Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Polis, described the group as “out of touch” in its attempt “to shift the data in bizarre and contorted ways to fit their agenda.”

“The facts remain that Colorado continues to be a national leader in clean energy policy while making progress towards achieving Governor Polis’s bold goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040,” Cahill told The Hill in an emailed statement. 

The state is “on track to secure more than 80 percent renewable energy and an 85 percent carbon reduction from electricity in the next seven years, by the end of 2029,” according to Cahill. 

Josh Chetwynd, director of climate communications at the Colorado Energy Office — a non-regulatory branch of the governor’s office — argued that “the claim that Colorado has less renewable energy than our neighboring states is incorrect and not support by the facts.”

“Colorado is a top-ten state for renewable energy production,” Chetwynd said in an email, noting that Colorado uses almost three times more total renewable energy than Utah does. 

The Centennial state generated a total of 38 percent of its energy from renewable sources in 2022 — 29 percent from wind, 6 percent from solar and 3 percent from hydroelectric — while only nine U.S. states used more renewables than Colorado, he explained.

Six of those are lesser-populated states with bigger wind resources, two are scarcely populated northeastern states with significant wood-derived biomass and one is California, Chetwynd stated.

“It is true that Colorado is a state that has historically relied on coal generation as the largest source of electricity,” he acknowledged. 

Nonetheless, the Polis administration has approved legally binding plans to retire every remaining coal plant by the end of the decade, Chetwynd stressed. 

“Unlike many eastern states that have replaced coal with natural gas, Colorado is replacing this generation almost entirely with wind, solar and batteries, with natural gas just playing a backup role for reliability,” he said.

“Replacing high-cost energy sources such as coal is a top priority for the Polis Administration to protect Coloradans’ health and safety and save people money,” Chetwynd added. 

Updated at 8:37 p.m.

Tags Jared Polis

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