Conservation group asks EPA to yank Xcel permits for coal-fired plants

Conservationists aren’t waiting for Xcel Energy to remake its coal-fired power plants along the Front Range to reduce smog ahead of an expected emissions clampdown by federal regulators.

Xcel's Cherokee power plant
Xcel's Cherokee power plant

WildEarth Guardians late last week completed the third of its EPA petitions seeking to revoke state permits for nitrogen-oxide-belching power plants slated for either closure, retrofitting to cleaner coal-burning technology or conversion to natural gas under Colorado’s recently passed Clean Air Clean Jobs Act.

The petition asks the EPA to revoke the permit issued Xcel’s Cherokee power plant by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment under Title V of the federal Clean Air Act, citing failure to ensure best available pollution controls.

“This is no joke, the Cherokee coal-fired power plant is the number one threat to clean air and a safe climate in the Denver metro area,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.

In late February the group filed a similar petition to pull the permit issued the Pawnee coal-fired power plant east of Denver in Brush and on March 18 filed a petition challenging the permit for the Valmont coal-fired power plant in Boulder. The EPA has 60 days to respond to each petition.

An Xcel spokesman Monday did not have much to say about the latest petition: “We believe we have a valid Title V permit that comports with all applicable requirements of the Clean Air Act,” Xcel’s Tom Henley said.

Xcel has been widely praised for its efforts to get out ahead of federal efforts to crack down on emissions from coal-fired power plants, either through a cap-and-trade program under climate change legislation passed by the House but stuck in the Senate or EPA regulation.

The Cherokee plant reportedly produces 10,295 tons of nitrogen oxide, 5.6 million tons of carbon dioxide and 12.3 tons of hydrochloric acid a year.

Colorado’s Clean Air Clean Jobs Act requires Xcel to come up with a plan by August to reduce emissions on 900 megawatts of power generated by older Front Range power plants, including cutting nitrogen oxide emissions up to 80 percent by 2017.

The bill was a bipartisan piece of legislation with the backing of environmentalists and the natural gas industry. However, lawmakers representing districts with coal-mining activity opposed it.

“The writing is on the wall. With Xcel’s environmental liability mounting by the day, the case for replacing coal-fired power plants with clean energy is growing ever stronger,” Nichols said. “It’s time to power past coal at Cherokee.”

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