The Colorado Public Utilities Commissioner Monday kicked off more hearings on a plan submitted by Xcel Energy that would brings the utility giant into compliance with the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act passed by the state legislature last session.
The three-member PUC board reportedly agreed on some aspects of Xcel’s plan but will continue deliberating Monday.
Coal industry backers in heavily mined areas on Colorado’s Western Slope bitterly oppose the plan, which would shut down or convert several coal-fired Xcel power plants on the Front Range to natural gas or other forms of alternative energy. Natural gas burns about 50 percent cleaner than coal.
Proponents of Clean Air, Clean Jobs argue the aging Xcel fleet is inefficient and contributes to excessive emissions and respiratory health problems among Front Range residents. But Colorado is in the top 10 of coal production nationwide, and industry officials argue the plan will kill jobs in a down economy.
“It’s tough you know,” Twentymile Coal Co. electrician Vince Reed, of Craig, told the Craig Daily News Monday. “I got six kids, four of them still at home … That weighs heavily on my mind about the future of my job and the future for this valley.”
But in Denver Sunday, at a demonstration organized by Environment Colorado, families gathered around “Clean-Air Claus” at the Denver Pavilions Mall and delivered wish lists for no more brown cloud, fewer cases of lung disease and asthma, mercury-free fish in mountain lakes and fewer hospital visits by kids and the elderly on the Front Range.
Advocates are worried the PUC will buckle to coal industry pressure and keep at least one of the aging plants functioning primarily on coal. The bill was passed with the help of some Republican lawmakers, including former Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, who saw it as a chance to create local markets for Colorado’s abundant natural gas.
Pam Kiely, program director of Environment Colorado, issued this statement Monday regarding this week’s hearings:
“The merits of the case speak for themselves. Fully retiring these old, inefficient, facilities is the most cost-effective option and the one that best protects our children and families from the health impacts of air pollution. It is absolutely critical that the big questions aren’t punted, and Coloradans know with certainty that the most dirty, dangerous power on our system will be permanently replaced.”
“Clean Air, Clean Jobs was widely supported by a diverse group of energy companies, legislators from both political parties, public health advocates, local governments and conservation groups.
“We hope the Commission reaches a decision that honors the intent of the legislature — a decision that will secure healthier air for millions of Coloradans by charting a permanent transition to phase out Denver’s single largest source of harmful pollution while building a strong, modern clean energy economy.”