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Some of the 750,000 solar panels of the Bighorn Solar project are seen Oct. 21, 2021, in Pueblo. The Evraz Steel Mill, at the top of the frame, purchased the energy generated by the array to power a new rail mill. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado and European Union climate and energy leaders are eager to exchange visitors on policy scouting trips to their equally desirable destinations. Never a shortage of volunteers. 

If they were expecting breezy tours of sightseeing highlights and fact-free nights on the town, Tuesday was a bracing wakeup call: This Colorado summit with the EU is jammed with dense explications of kilowatt hour clean energy prices, and hydroelectric-to-hydrogen storage projects. 

And both sides lapped it up. 

The European Union’s previous focus on climate change policy has been sharpened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and western desires to get completely off Russian fossil fuel imports. Colorado is busy carrying out 57 pieces of landmark energy and climate change legislation passed over three years, and looking for new ideas on how to accelerate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Climate is no longer a niche policy, it’s all of the economy,” said Mercedes Garcia Perez, leader of the three-day Delegation of the EU (similar to an embassy) learning mission to Colorado. 

After an exchange of ideas in downtown Denver on Tuesday, the delegation will also visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, internationally recognized atmospheric research labs and the University of Colorado in Boulder, and energy analysts at the Rocky Mountain Institute. 

Here’s a roundup of what EU and Colorado are eager to tell each other: 

What the EU Delegation is telling Colorado: 

  • They are fascinated by the buy-in from Colorado’s major electrical utilities to retire coal power plants and replace them with solar and wind power. They were impressed by Colorado’s apparent progress toward the goal of cutting 80% of electrical plant emissions by 2030, and wanted to know whether nuclear power or carbon capture and storage underground would be part of those plans. 
  • Hydrogen energy will be a key part of the EU’s clean energy transition. Garcia Perez pointed to a new clean steel plant in northern Sweden that will use hydroelectric power to produce hydrogen, which in turn will be the fuel for the steel furnaces. European car companies are already contracting for the steel, which will be used in part to build electric vehicles.
  • To cut dependence on Russian oil and gas even faster, EU nations will be demanding more sacrifices by consumers and industry. That will include lower speed limits on roadways to save fuel, and restrictions or incentives to get a larger share of power used overnight when electricity is cheaper and more available. 

What Colorado officials are telling the EU: 

  • Colorado’s transition has benefited greatly from close cooperation with the six major electric utilities in the state that have been largely on board with demands for a rapid switch to cleaner energy. Colorado projects are now hearing bids for 2 cents a kilowatt hour for wind, and less than 3 cents for solar with storage, Colorado Energy Office Executive Director Will Toor told the EU delegation, while operating existing fossil fuel plants costs utilities 4 to 4.5 cents a kilowatt hour. 
  • Colorado’s urgency for change has been focused by seeing the initial impacts of climate change: decadeslong megadrought in Western Colorado, more frequent and severe flooding from heavy rains or snowmelt, and breathing problems from an increasing number of wildfires across Colorado and neighboring states. 
  • Transportation is the next big sector to target, Toor told the delegation. With so much success in electric utilities’ plans to make the transition, transportation has passed electric power as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for Colorado. Colorado’s initially ambitious goal of getting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 now appears on track, Toor said, and the state must carry through plans to decarbonize the medium to heavy vehicles, such as school buses and delivery trucks.

Michael Booth is the Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of the Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He is co-author with Jennifer Brown of the Colorado Book Award-winning food safety investigation “Eating Dangerously.” Booth was part of teams that won two Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news. He also writes frequently about inexplicable obsessions that include tamarisk, black-footed ferrets and tire fires. Booth also serves as the underpaid driver for four children, and plans to eventually hike every inch of Colorado.