The Colorado Legislature wrapped up its 2022 regular session of the 73rd General Assembly at midnight on Wednesday, May 11, with transformative money-saving measures to provide real relief to Coloradans through expedited tax rebates, bold property tax relief, making health care more affordable and accessible, making Colorado communities safer and sending six important energy efficiency bills to Governor Polis for his signature.
“Colorado took significant steps forward on efficiency, climate, and transit this legislative session,” said Elise Jones, Executive Director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP). “These actions will help Coloradans save money on home heating, hot water, housing, and transportation while helping to clean up our air and protect our future.” SWEEP says that it played an important role in developing or advancing many of these policies (translation, they lobby on behalf of energy bills that increase energy efficiency).
Some of the more noteworthy accomplishments of this legislative session relate to advanced energy and water efficiency. But it remains to be seen if all of them will be signed by Governor Jared Polis:
HB22-1362 (Energy-Efficient Building Codes) This landmark bill increases the statewide minimum performance requirements for building energy codes, requiring cities and counties to increase efficiency and cut pollution from homes and commercial buildings when updating their local codes.
The bill requires local governments to introduce electric- and solar-ready code language beginning in 2023, followed by low-energy and low-carbon code language beginning in 2026. Finally, the bill invests more than $20 million in energy efficiency and building decarbonization projects. SWEEP thanks Representatives Tracey Bernett and Alex Valdez along with Senators Chris Hansen and Faith Winter for leading this effort.
It is important to note that just because the Colorado legislature adopts new model codes, does not mean that counties are quick to adopt them. Typically they lag a few years behind in adjusting their own language, training, and processes. This bill sets a timeframe for adoption.
SB22-206 (Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Resources) This bill was crafted in the wake of the devastating Marshall Fire. It provides $20 million to the Colorado Energy Office to distribute as loans and grants to help Coloradans rebuild efficient, resilient, and high-performance homes after wildfires and other climate disasters; and $15 million to the Department of Local Affairs to help fund resilient recovery efforts after disaster emergencies.
It also establishes an Office of Climate Preparedness to coordinate the state’s post-disaster recovery efforts and develop a statewide climate preparedness plan.
HB22-1218 (EV-ready Building Codes) This bill requires builders to future-proof new and renovated commercial and multifamily buildings for electric vehicle (EV) charging. For parking spaces in these buildings, adding such infrastructure during the initial construction phase is up to six times less expensive than adding charging later as a stand-alone retrofit.
Colorado anticipates nearly one million EVs on its roads by 2030, requiring more than half a million EV charging stations at homes, businesses, shopping centers, and highway corridors, so it makes sense to future-proof new buildings with the panel capacity and wiring to accommodate EV charging.
It should be pointed out that while the codes in this bill are among the strongest in the country, building codes in Colorado are set and enforced at the local level. So how quickly this legislation has an impact is dependent upon 64 counties and hundreds of municipalities.
HB22-1026 (Transportation Options Tax Credit) This bill will help employers support employees that commute to work using an energy-efficient mode such as transit, a bicycle, or a vanpool. The credit is available for two years and covers 50 percent of the cost of providing clean transportation options.
To receive the tax credit, employers must offer clean transportation options to all employees, including part-time and contract workers, which will ensure the benefits are available to all workers including those who don’t have the option to work from home.
SB22-118 and HB22-1381 both focused on geothermal energy. The first bill passed, and the second was laid over. These two bills would help building owners and communities deploy energy-efficient geothermal heat pump systems to heat and cool buildings and/or provide hot water.
HB22-1151 (Turf Replacement) This bill would reduce water use for lawn irrigation and conserve electricity that otherwise would have been used for pumping. The Colorado Water Conservation Board would be required to create a program for Coloradans that would financially incentivize them to voluntarily replace their irrigated turf with water-wise landscaping. Rep. Dylan Roberts one of its sponsors, has been one of the many voices behind recent efforts in Eagle County to move toward drought-tolerant landscaping there.
While this bill certainly has a window-dressing impact – encouraging homeowners to replace water-thirsty grass with artificial turf or xeriscaping, the impact is not quite what it appears. Sources say that it may reduce total grass lawns by only 900 acres.
One notable bill that would have improved energy efficiency failed to pass:
SB22-138, an omnibus climate package, died due to a last-minute filibuster in the House. Among many features of the bill, it would have refined Colorado’s official targets for reducing climate-changing pollution, adding requirements for 2035 and 2040 emissions reductions; and it would have created a financial incentive for individuals and businesses to replace inefficient gasoline-powered small engines with highly-efficient electric options.
Four bills focused on energy savings were “laid over” to the next session:
Laid over — SB22-051 (Heat Pumps and Building Materials) was laid over to the next legislative session, but there was a lot of support behind this bill. It creates a 10 percent tax credit and a state sales tax exemption for the purchase of heat pump systems, which are used for keeping homes at a comfortable temperature and for heating water.
According to SWEEP research, the annual heating costs for an all-electric home outfitted with heat pump technology is about 10 percent less than for a home using gas furnaces and gas water heaters (85 percent of Colorado homes), with 50-60 percent less climate-changing carbon pollution under current electricity sources, though incentives are needed to accelerate the transition.
If passed, the 10 percent tax credit and state sales tax exemption would extend to electrical panel upgrades and energy storage systems. Finally, the bill includes a state sales tax exemption for low global-warming-potential building materials.
SB22-180 (Fare-Free Transit, Bustang Expansion and Main Streets) This bill invests $28 million in Colorado transit agencies for the purpose of funding at least one full month of fare-free service in each of the next two years. This investment could help rebuild ridership numbers that fell as a result of the pandemic, and help build momentum toward a future of more frequent and improved service — which can help improve transportation efficiency, reduce congestion, and save energy and money.
Further, the bill expands access to commercial driver license testing to help address a shortage of bus drivers; invests $30 million in expanding the regional Bustang service so important to rural parts of the state such as the Arkansas River Valley and the San Luis Valley. It would allocate an additional $10 million to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Revitalizing Main Streets Program.
Laid over — HB22-1304 (Strong Communities and Affordable Housing) This bill would invest $40 million in a new “Strong Communities Grant Program,” alongside $178 million for affordable housing. Strong Communities will encourage local governments to adopt more efficient land-use policies that support compact, infill development and increase the supply of affordable housing in walkable, transit-friendly communities. Sustainable land use is a key strategy for improving the efficiency of our transportation system and reducing per-capita levels of driving as well as overall transportation fuel consumption. HB22-1304 would help local governments meet the requirements of the groundbreaking planning rule adopted by the Colorado Transportation Commission last year to reduce climate-changing pollution.
Laid over — SB22-193 (Air Quality) This bill would invest $65 million in helping school districts across the state replace diesel buses with clean, efficient electric school buses; $12 million in highly-efficient electric bike rebates and bike-share programs; $25 million in incentives for industry to adopt efficiency measures or clean technologies that go beyond regulatory requirements; and $750k to fund transit passes for state employees.