Energy report card brings good news and challenges

As a new school year dawns, the U.S. Energy Information Administration has fittingly released an energy report card for the states in the form of State Energy Data System (“SEDS”) estimates of state-level energy production, consumption, prices, and expenditures during 2015 (https://www.eia.gov/state/seds/seds-data-complete.php?sid=US).

Like academic report cards, the SEDS report indicates how Colorado’s energy production and consumption compare to its peers and have changed over time. Overall, the news for Colorado is positive, though there is room for improvement.

The good news is that Colorado was one of 12 states that produced more energy than they consumed during 2015. The states with the largest net energy production were Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania, while the states with the largest energy shortfalls were California, Florida, and New York.

Colorado ranked seventh in net energy production. We produced more than twice as much energy, 3,233 trillion British thermal units (or Btu) as we consumed, 1,480 Btu. (A Btu is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of a gallon of water one degree Fahrenheit.) In relative terms, Colorado’s energy surplus of 1,753 Btu exceeded the amount of energy consumed by 30 states individually and almost equaled the 2,053 Btu used by Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming collectively.

This surplus benefited Colorado families, whose average energy expenditures per person were about 9 percent less than the national average and who paid an average of about 4 percent less for gasoline than the national average. It also helped to decrease the nation’s energy shortfall to less than 10 percent of total consumption for the first time since 1971. This made the United States more energy self-sufficient, fueled the economy, and reduced the outflow of dollars. 

Most of Colorado’s energy production involved fossil fuels. Colorado ranked 10th in coal production, seventh in oil production, and fourth in natural gas production using Btu equivalents. The state produced about 20 percent more coal than it consumed, 50 percent more oil than it consumed, and four times more natural gas than it consumed. The oil production set a record. As recently as 2011, the state consumed more than twice as much oil as it produced, and in 2013 consumption still exceeded production by 20 percent due to the more than 5 million cars and trucks we drive.

In contrast, Colorado ranked only 30th in producing renewable energy, and renewable resources met only about 8 percent of Colorado’s energy needs. The SEDS report indicates that Colorado ranked 36th in biomass production, 28th in geothermal production, and 23rd in hydroelectric production. Although Colorado ranked 12th in solar production, it still lagged behind states with much less sunshine like Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. Colorado did best with wind production, ranking eighth but still generating only about 4 percent of national production.

Colorado did better in bending the curve of energy consumption. Colorado consumed about the same amount of energy in 2015 as it did in 2014 and 2 percent less than it did in 2010 despite a growing population. This flattening of the consumption curve is a marked improvement from the period between 1990 and 2010, when energy consumption increased about 12 percent every five years due largely to population growth.

So, like many of our own report cards, the SEDS report brings both good news and challenges. The good news is that we are producing enough energy to meet our own needs and contribute to those of other states. Our challenges are that our reliance on fossil fuels makes it imperative that this production continue to occur efficiently and responsibly and that local conflicts are defused. We also need to build upon our progress in decreasing our energy consumption in the face of population and economic growth. And we must work harder to make renewable energy a reality, both to respond to increasing scientific consensus and concern about climate change and to further diversify and expand our energy portfolio. The complexity of these issues will only increase as the State Demography Office projects that our population will grow by about 1 million residents during the coming decade, which will create additional energy demands and add more voices to the discussion.

Dave Neslin is a longtime Colorado resident, a Denver lawyer, and the former director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.


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