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Saving ForestsRenewable Energy within the Mountain West: A Tale of Two States

Renewable Energy within the Mountain West: A Tale of Two States

Renewable Energy within the Mountain West: A Tale of Two States

Wyoming and Colorado are very different places — but renewables are thriving in each states.

Politics play a very important role in determining the fate of renewable energy specifically places, but so does economics.  The Trump Administration is attempting to shift the economics, nevertheless it seems unlikely they’ll have the option to have much impact. For now, at the very least, there are a selection of motivations for states to embrace renewables, as illustrated by two of the Mountain States.

Wyoming and California differ dramatically of their politics and their state economies.  But renewable energy has managed to take root in each places.  Still, the political differences matter in the best way policy unfolds: Colorado cares about climate change, while Wyoming cares only concerning the potential economic advantages of renewables.


Colorado has an aggressive renewable energy goal. Based on the Denver Post, “The legislature has mandated that 30 percent of Colorado’s electricity from investor-owned utilities must come from renewable sources by 2020. For utility cooperatives, the goal is 20 percent, and for giant municipal utilities, 10 percent.”

The state got 18% of its energy from renewables in 2015, but hit 24% last March. The remainder of the ability in 2018 got here from coal (50%) and natural gas (22%). The City of Aspen, in what it says is an indication of the potential for renewables, gets all of its energy from wind and hydro.

The state has already experienced the onset of climate change. Based on the pre-Trump EPA, average temperatures within the state are up 2°F, and April snowback is down 20-60% in most locations. Furthermore, “[i]n the a long time to return, rainfall during summer is more prone to decrease than increase in Colorado, and periods without rain are prone to change into longer.”

These changes could have a huge impact on the Colorado – the source of water throughout much of the Southwest. Based on a recent study:

“Recently published estimates of Colorado River flow sensitivity to temperature combined with numerous recent climate model-based temperature projections indicate that continued business-as-usual warming will drive temperature-induced declines in river flow, conservatively −20% by midcentury and −35% by end-century, with support for losses exceeding −30% at midcentury and −55% at end-century.”

Fire is an extra problem:

“Higher temperatures and drought are prone to increase the severity, frequency, and extent of wildfires in Colorado, which could harm property, livelihoods, and human health. In 2013, the Black Forest Fire burned 14,000 acres and destroyed over 500 homes. Wildfire smoke can reduce air quality and increase medical visits for chest pains, respiratory problems, and heart problems. The dimensions and variety of western forest fires have increased substantially since 1985.”

Given these impacts, perhaps it’s not surprising that the state is planning to ramp up its efforts. In July, the governor announced that the state was joining the U.S. Climate Alliance. He also set some recent targets for the state. From the Denver Post again:

“By 2025, the governor would love to see Colorado reduce its emissions statewide to 26 percent or more below 2005 levels. He also wants the electricity sector to scale back its emissions by greater than 35 percent by 2030.”

“Other goals within the climate plan include constructing out a network of electrical automotive charging stations along major highway corridors and reducing energy and water use in public buildings, thereby saving taxpayers money.”

These don’t appear to be enforceable goals, but hopefully they’ll help speed up the state’s carbon transition.

Colorado has divided government, with a Republican Senate (by a narrow majority), Democratic House, and Democratic governor. Over the past 20 years, the state has shifted from strong Republican control to a robust Democratic lean. The state is the poster child for the Recent West Economy, with extractive industries playing a smaller role while technology and tourism are growing.


Wyoming is one among the nation’s leading coal producers, and it gets 88% of its power from coal. Yet surprisingly, the Cowboy State leads the nation in wind power per capita, and all the recent capability from 2016 to 2019 can be wind. Indeed, in line with a University of Wyoming study,

“Wyoming’s top five large wind projects, including the Chokecherry Sierra Madre project and the Viridis Eolia proposal north of Medicine Bow, would generate greater than $700 million in tax revenue to local governments, greater than $400 million to the state and greater than $700 million to Wyoming schools, throughout a 20-year period.”

The politics surrounding renewables in Wyoming are quite interesting. Because the Casper Star Tribune explains: “Though industry interest in Wyoming has flourished, the state, though its policies, has maintained a fierce loyalty to fossil fuel industries, which contribute billions of dollars in tax revenue to state and native coffers.”

As a measure of the strength of the fossil fuel lobby, Wyoming has actually been considering laws to boost taxes on renewables and maybe ban the sale of wind power within the state. Though to be fair, tea party ideology is one other a part of the combo. In the long run, the legislative push seems to have fizzled, at the very least for now. It’s hard to show away industry that might bring billions of dollars of investment right into a state.

The Republican Party has overwhelming control of the state legislature, and Trump carried the state the state by a whopping 50% margin. Still, in the long run, it looks like economics may trump Trump.

Wyoming has a little bit over half the population of San Jose, California. As an odd feature of our governmental system, Wyoming gets two U.S. Senators, a Representative, and three electoral votes. San Jose doesn’t.

environmental politics, renewable energy, state policy


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