CEA Explains: What is a Carbon Budget?

Our civilization seems to be in the denial stage on that climate change thing. Even the folks that know there is a problem don’t seem to realize the speed at which we need to act to have a decent chance of avoiding some of the catastrophic effects of climate change. A good way to think about the emissions reductions required is by examining our global carbon budget, or the total remaining CO2 our civilization can emit. Listen in as we attempt to explain carbon budgets.

Kill the Bill

Testify & Join Our Allies
Stop the Attack on Renewable Energy in Colorado

Monday, March 2nd, Colorado State Capitol (map)
  • 2:00 pm: Rally in West Foyer
  • 2:30 pm: Testify at Committee Hearing in Legislative Services Building, Room A
  • 2:45 pm: Celebrate or Commiserate, West Steps

The House State, Veterans & Military Affairs have the capacity to kill Senate Bill 44. This bill would roll back our renewable energy standard from 30% by 2020 to 15%. This is especially absurd because Xcel already gets 19% of their electricity from wind alone.  Some renewables are cheaper than fossil fueled power and actually help rural Coloradan communities, contrary to the ‘war on rural Colorado’ narrative.

Thanks to everyone who signed our petition. Because of you, the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee received nearly 600 emails telling them to stop this attack on clean energy in Colorado. Unfortunately, it passed the Senate and now it’s the House’s turn. Let’s get it right this time.

Come testify or join Conservation Colorado and other renewable energy allies to show that Coloradans do not want to move backwards on renewable energy.

For more info contact Jordan Bresson, Field Organizer with Conservation Colorado at jordan@conservationco.org or 719-964-8608.



*  XcelEnergy plans to spend $400 million in upgrading two coal plants
*  As the US coal industry has taken an ominous nosedive
*  Colorado will face the financial risk if these plants cannot be run
*  While renewables are utterly cost-competitive with coal & natural gas
*  We know coal plants don’t balance well with renewables on the grid
*  Plus coal plants need millions of gallons of water for cooling….
*  And climate change won’t wait.
*  It’s unconscionable.


Dear Decision Makers:

First, thank you for your public service. However, I want to let you know that I strongly object to further investments in coal fired electricity, as Xcel Energy is currently attempting to do in Colorado!

Energy markets are undergoing tremendous change with the US coal industry nearing collapse while renewable energy prices continue to plummet. Above all, time is running out for us to address climate change.

Colorado needs to prepare for a bright future, not double down on the dirty energy of days gone by.

Xcel Energy’s plan to spend $400 million upgrading two coal plants, Pawnee and Hayden, is unacceptable. As the coal industry continues its decline those upgraded coal plants will become STRANDED ASSETS to be paid off with MY money and YOURS. These investments are chasing sunk costs, throwing good money after bad, when we should be working to move beyond coal as quickly as possible.

Energy efficiency, clean renewable power and electricity storage consume no fuel or water, are already cost-competitive, and should be favored by the PUC whenever the opportunity arises. The coal fired generation on Xcel's system cannot easily be used to balance with renewables on the grid, so further investment in coal impedes the integration of more renewable energy into our grid.

Again, we need to plan for the future, not pretend we're in the past. Please cancel Xcel's plans to upgrade Pawnee and Hayden.

Thank you for your consideration.


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For more background, see this searing review in the Denver Post by Leslie Glustrom, CEA’s co-founder:

Will coal investments become stranded assets?

A machine that no rational person wants to build is one that generates stranded assets — assets that become non-functional long before they have been paid for.

Unfortunately, customers of Colorado’s largest utility, Xcel, are bound to just such a “stranded asset machine,” given the poor decisions that the Public Utilities Commission is allowing Xcel to make.

Since the turn of this century, Xcel has spent about $1 billion on the Comanche 3 coal plant in Pueblo to serve the Denver-Boulder area, and now the Public Utilities Commission is turning a blind eye, yet again, while Xcel spends hundreds of millions of dollars on old Colorado coal plants in 2014 and 2015.

Under the current system, Xcel fully expects its customers to not only pay for these coal plant expenditures, but to also provide Xcel a return of between 7 percent and 8 percent on the money. In addition, Xcel will pass 100 percent of future coal costs through to customers under the Electric Commodity Adjustment mechanism.

This risk-free way of generating profit is good business as long as you can get the PUC to agree to it — which the PUC routinely does.

The financial world is abuzz with discussions of “unburnable carbon” and the need to avoid investments in fossil fuel assets that are likely to become stranded given the urgency of addressing the climate crisis.

None of this is being discussed as the Colorado PUC stands ready to approve hundreds of millions of dollars of expenditures on old Colorado coal plants as part of the ongoing Xcel rate case.

The PUC seems to have an unspoken rule that when you walk through the doors of the commission, all discussion and concerns about the planet and unburnable carbon will be left at the door.

In the 21st century, that is not only unconscionable, it is also leading Colorado into a very risky economic situation.

Even if there were no concerns about climate change, ocean acidification, boiling off Colorado’s precious water supplies to produce electricity, or the copious amounts of air, water and coal ash pollution created by coal plants, it still would be a bad idea to allow large investments in coal plants in the 21st century.

First of all, as the costs for wind and solar plummet and storage technologies evolve rapidly, the opportunity to move beyond coal for purely financial reasons becomes ever more viable.

Second, resources built in this century should be extremely flexible in their operation to match the variable nature of the wind and solar that Colorado is so blessed with. Flexible is precisely what baseload coal plants are not — and we shouldn’t be investing in them.

Finally, coal plants need a supply of coal to operate and the truth about coal is that most of the U.S. coal that can be mined at a profit is gone. The U.S. coal industry is running seriously in the red, stock prices have cratered, the largest companies are facing billions of dollars of debt and Wall Street has largely left the U.S. coal industry for dead. (For more depth, see here, and here, and here and here.)

Consequently, it is completely unclear who will be mining U.S. coal in the coming years and decades — what’s less for the five more decades that Xcel’s Comanche 3 coal plant is scheduled to operate.

Spending money on coal plants in light of these harsh realities is the height of economic (to say nothing of planetary) folly — but that is exactly what the Colorado PUC is letting Colorado’s largest utility do.

While the PUC is firmly keeping its eyes covered and its ears plugged to the realities of the 21st century, it is long past time that the state’s economic and political leaders took a hard look at the facts that the PUC is ignoring and put an end to Colorado’s stranded asset machine.

CU-Boulder Divestment Day of Action

Friday, February 13
11:00 AM – Panel @ UMC 247
12:00 PM – Rally and March @ UMC Fountain
University Memorial Center – CU, Boulder
1669 Euclid Avenue, Boulder, CO 80309

Join Fossil Free CU, in global solidarity with thousands of other universities, faith groups, and communities in demanding Divestment from Fossil fuels.

Come to a panel on Divestment at 11am then join us for a Rally and March at noon to demand the University of Colorado remove its over $27 million worth of investments from fossil fuels! This is just the start,  Fossil Fee CU will be talking about big plans for the rest of the year, so don’t miss this opportunity! More info.

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Accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy