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Colo. regulators open investigation into decarbonizing gas utilities

Colorado regulators signaled they will scrutinize natural gas' role in the state's energy mix, joining a growing list of public utility commissions that have launched proceedings to assess the future of gas utilities in their jurisdictions.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Oct. 29 opened a general investigation (Colo. PUC Case No. 20M-0439G) into whether changes in greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use could help the state meet its climate goals. The commission will start the process with a remote meeting on Nov. 5 to gather information on the retail gas industry's emissions.

More broadly, the commission is seeking information on decarbonization options for the industry, "mathematical and scientific expectations" for emissions reductions from the sector, and and interim steps the PUC can take while stakeholders implement technological and regulatory changes.

The announcement came on the same day that the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities opened a similar proceeding (Mass. DPU Case No. 20-80), which ordered state gas utilities to present pathways for decarbonizing their distribution systems. California regulators opened a proceeding in January (Calif. PUC Case No. 20-01-007), followed by New York in March (N.Y. PSC Case No. 20-G-0131).

All four states have codified greenhouse gas emissions reductions into law. Colorado's House Bill 1261, the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, set a goal of reducing statewide emissions by 90% from 2005 levels by 2050. Since the 2019 legislation does not establish specific requirements for gas utilities, the commission said it would investigate how the industry can help meet the goals.

At the Nov. 5 meeting, the commission will seek to "establish a base set of background information regarding retail natural gas industry greenhouse gas emissions in light of Colorado's emission reduction goals." It will hear presentations on future gas market dynamics, the state's statutory reductions commitments, the gas industry's potential to help achieve reductions, relevant rulemaking by state agencies and possible future pathways for cutting emissions.

Colorado's publicly traded gas utilities include Atmos Energy Corp., Black Hills Corp. and Xcel Energy Inc..