Mountain States

Natural Gas Kept Colorado Warm, Now Gov. Polis Wants to Abandon It For Intermittent Power

When a January cold snap kept highs across Colorado in the teens, Coloradans were grateful for natural gas to keep their homes and businesses warm and well lit. Now the bills for that energy are coming due and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has turned on natural gas, calling it “unreliable,” and arguing that the state should invest heavily in intermittent renewable energy.

Announcing a new initiative, Gov. Polis pledged that the state would use federal funding to promote electrification, saying:

“We must leave no stone unturned to save Coloradans money on utility bills. Coloradans need near-term and long-term relief on their energy bills and today I am laying out ways state entities and utilities can take action to help save people money on their energy costs, to identify and implement opportunities to protect Colorado consumers, lower costs, and avoid price swings like the one we’re experiencing now.”

Though he claimed to leave no stone unturned, support for natural gas infrastructure was one rock that the Polis administration didn’t touch.

Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, echoed Polis’ sentiments and spoke of the need to embrace renewable energy:

“We need to reduce dependence on volatile fossil fuel markets and embrace clean energy with more predictable costs for consumers. As we expand our efforts to accelerate this transition, we are also working with Coloradans to improve energy efficiency and electrification and keep energy costs down for all.”

Natural gas utilities in Colorado have been coming under increased scrutiny. Although fuel costs during the cold snap were staggeringly high, taking natural gas out of the picture is not the solution. Despite critics’ attacks that natural gas has been “unreliable,” this winter has shown the opposite—that natural gas is critical to meet Colorado’s energy needs.

As the North American Electric Reliability Corp. explained in its 2021 annual risk assessment:

“Recognition of the challenges that the system faces during this transition requires action on key matters. Natural gas is the reliability ‘fuel that keeps the lights on,’ and natural gas policy must reflect this reality.” (emphasis added)

During Winter Storm Elliot, it was natural gas that supported intermittent renewable energy and meant residents could keep their homes warm.

This is particularly relevant to Colorado which encountered life threatening cold weather in December 2022 with temperatures dipping to minus 24 F. January ranked as one of coldest and snowiest months in record with 80 percent of days being colder than normal. For Coloradans, having a reliable source of energy during the winter months is essential.

Not only did Governor Polis’ remarks downplay the success of natural gas in meeting high energy demand during the winter cold snap, they also dismissed the role that Colorado’s world-class oil and gas industry plays in producing the energy the state needs. Colorado is a net energy exporter. Much of the oil and gas produced in the state is sent to end users around the United States and world.

Exporting Colorado oil and gas is a boon because of the state’s innovative techniques which have helped to make the energy produced in Colorado some of the cleanest in the world. Along with rigorous state regulations and environmental practices that are considered gold standard, Colorado companies use pioneering technologies that are often held up as an industry example.

These investments are paying off. A Colorado Oil and Gas Association study released last fall showed that methane emissions in the state have been continually declining. Since 2015, methane emissions on the Colorado Front Range are down by 72 percent. This emissions decline has been alongside an increase in natural gas production in the state, showing that energy security and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive.

However, this is not a solution that Polis is interested in pursuing. When asked in a press conference about whether he would increase permitting to try to ease high energy prices, Polis said there was “no connection” between the energy created in Colorado and the high prices consumers are seeing:

“If granting more permits worked we wouldn’t have had this price spike, because we actually granted more permits.”

This one-size-fits-all approach ignores the Colorado success story, which continues to prove that a state can reduce emissions while creating an affordable and reliable energy source that support local people and businesses – something it would benefit Gov. Polis to recognize.

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