IREA Voices touts new study on looming coal shortages

IREA Voices, a citizen activist group formed to combat the climate change policies of the state’s largest rural electric co-op, is pointing its members to a new study conducted by a former biochemist in Colorado who says the nation’s coal supply may run out in the next two decades.

Leslie Glustrom, now with Boulder-based Clean Energy Action, says federal government estimates of a 200-year coal supply are way off base because most of that coal will not be economically accessible over the course of the next century.

IREA Voices was formed after the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, with nearly 138,000 members in the suburbs between Denver and Colorado Springs, invested $366 million in Xcel Energy’s new Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant near Pueblo.

Last spring the group unsuccessfully backed three green candidates in the IREA’s board election. Comanche 3, which has yet to come online, is already being sued by environmental groups for its mercury emissions plan.

A former head of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission who now works in the renewable energy sector has said utilities may be legally liable if they invest too heavily in fossil fuels and then see those power sources spike prohibitively in cost due to shortages or pending federal climate change legislation.

Glustrom, in a recent interview posted on YouTube, says 50 percent of the nation’s electrical supply comes from carbon-belching coal, and that 40 percent of that comes from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. The majority of the 13 mines in the Powder River Basin have a life expectancy of only 10 to 20 years, Glustrom warns. Her report is posted on the Clean Energy Action website.

State’s like Colorado with a voter-mandated renewable energy standard are ahead of the game, Glustrom said, but many states in the Mid-West that get a higher percentage of their electrical power from coal-fired plants (Colorado is at 70 percent) and don’t have the same wind and solar resources will be in real trouble in the coming years, she warns.

“What we’ve done in Wyoming is kind of the equivalent of eating two dozen doughnuts for breakfast,” Glustrom says. “It powers you up really fast, but when those doughnuts are gone, thunk, you’re done.”

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