PUC commissioners still split on fate of Cherokee 4 unit

The three Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) board members in charge of regulating the state’s publicly owned electrical utilities remain split on what to do about Xcel Energy’s coal-fired Cherokee 4 unit, according to the Associated Press.

The unit is the last sticking point in a potential $1 billion deal that will shut down some coal-fire Front Range units and shift to natural gas, which burns about 50 percent cleaner than coal. The state’s coal industry is opposed to the move, which is being predicated by the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act passed last legislative session.

According to the AP, PUC commissioner James Tarpey on Wednesday said he backs Xcel’s plan to just add new emissions controls to Cherokee 4. PUC Chairman Ron Binz reportedly supports retrofitting the facility to run just on natural gas. Commissioner Matt Baker prefers shuttering the unit altogether and replacing it with a new natural gas-fired facility. Tarpey is concerned about long-term natural gas supplies, AP reported.

Pam Kiely, program director of Environment Colorado, said the PUC needs to act decisively when it reconvenes on the issue Thursday.

“This is a defining moment for Colorado … are we going to commit today to cleaner resources and cleaner air for our children and grandchildren or continue our dependence on an aging, high-emitting coal plant in the heart of Denver?

“This is no time to punt; it’s time for the commission to step it up and actually nail down a retirement date for our largest, dirtiest coal plant,” she added. “It is an incredibly risky strategy economically and environmentally to leave the retirement date undecided, and keep the door open for a return to dirty coal.”

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