May 27, 2021 City Building

Reimagining Renewable Energy: Downtown Denver Deepens Collaboration Across Sectors

On climate and clean energy, government sets the international framework, and the private sector uses that framework to do what it does best: innovate, create, and drive global progress. -Tom Steyer, American businessman, philanthropist, environmentalist, and activist.

Collaboration between the public and private sectors is required to achieve short and long-term emission reduction goals through new technologies and business-friendly policies prioritizing renewable energy. Denver is leading the nation in collaborative climate action as one of only two U.S. cities with taxpayer money going to climate change – along with Portland, our city is pioneering the creation and management of a Climate Protection Fund. 

Innovative leaders in our community are taking a leadership role in clean energy, and Downtown Denver organizations across sectors are embracing the progression towards a clean energy economy and creating ambitious blueprints in the shift to renewables. Investing in renewable energy makes economic as well as environmental sense – more local solar helps to avoid investments in new transmission infrastructure and power plants, helping to keep energy costs low for all ratepayers.

Some exciting developments in this shift to renewables are happening in Downtown Denver Partnership member companies and organizations, including Xcel Energy’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 85% by 2030. Xcel Energy has announced some of the most ambitious clean energy and decarbonization goals in the country among investor owned utilities. Xcel is leading the nation in wind generation, with plans to create jobs and position the company as a leader in solar energy as well. Fortunately for businesses looking to make the shift to greener energy, Xcel also has multiple clean energy programs for organizations to choose from that can ensure their electricity comes from a renewable source. 

Another great example of allyship in the transition to renewable energy within our Partnership member base is DaVita. DaVita set a goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2022, and has taken a passionate sustainable energy strategy that actually began as a bottom-to-top organizational effort. Driven by people within all levels of the company, Davita’s solar farm is wrapping up and will support Davita in becoming 100% renewable by 2022, lowering costs of operating in the process. 

In light of this progress, Grace Rink, Executive Director, with Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency (CASR) and Jonathon Rogers Renewable Energy Specialist at Denver’s Office of CASR shared with the Partnership more about how these and other businesses and organizations are helping to create public-private partnerships that will make notable local and regional impacts.

CASR is responsible for overseeing progress towards Denver’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. This office streamlined state government resources and the City’s climate policy efforts into one unit, by combining the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability with the Climate Action Team in the Dept. of Public Health and Environment.

CASR released Denver’s 100% Renewable Energy Action Plan in August 2020, which plays a critical role in meeting the city’s emissions reduction target. Additionally, CASR works closely with local members of the community and is considering recommendations from Denver’s Climate Action Task Force, which encourages the city to increase its goal in pursuit of a 100% reduction in emissions by 2040.

CASR has intentionally set its clean energy goals based on maximizing the impact to the transition of the overall electricity system. This means prioritizing opportunities that add renewable energy to the grid instead of buying renewable energy credits from generation that’s already on the system. The team is pursuing tactics to increase renewable energy resources in the city including investing in new solar installations on city property. 

Grace also explained pieces of the Net Zero Implementation Plan, a roadmap for how we can integrate building performance requirements for new construction into the building code. The aim of this plan is not to ban fossil gas, but to adjust building codes so that by 2030, all new buildings and homes will be net zero. This will enable designers and developers to use all available technology to meet performance requirements.

CASR prioritizes equity as a pillar in energy, and advocates for a combination of progressive, income based rate structures and for energy equity across communities. Equitable rate design is an evolving process, and this office seeks to innovate, measure impact, and improve and update the options available to the Denver community. 

In addition to income-based rate structures, CASR is exploring options to provide equitable electricity through programs like the community solar program, in which 20% of the electricity generated from city-owned community solar installations will be dedicated to help income-qualified residents participate in solar and save on their electrical bills. This is a key tool in providing the economic benefits of solar to local residents that can’t afford solar on their roofs, don’t own their homes, or otherwise can’t access from solar.

Xcel Energy also works closely with CASR through their Energy Future Collaboration on key issues related to the city’s clean energy and community objectives. The public-private partnership focuses on building decarbonization, resiliency and reliability, streetlight conversions to LEDs, as well as other key priorities. The Energy Future Collaboration creates opportunities to work with leaders across organizations at the City and Xcel Energy.

Taking in a broad view of clean energy collaboration across cities, organizations, and states, a regional transmission market and network is dependent on coordination and collaborative management across both state lines and differing community guidelines. The Office of Sustainability collaborates with Front Range Sustainability Directors to exchange ideas between communities to impact policies and innovate best practices for helping with regional infrastructure. 

Looking forward, we have made great progress, but there is still much work to be done. These leaders encourage Denver networks to think innovatively as we work towards distributed generation – how can we empower communities and customers to generate their own renewable energy and take ownership in supporting the larger transition to clean energy ? A great first opportunity is aligning goals across sectors with those of CASR. As we move forward together, looking to these leading forces and learning from other’s progress will continue to be key to Denver’s contributions as a vital leader in renewable energy solutions.

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Shelby Winter

Coordinator, Special Projects & Marketing

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