Utilities commission likely to make decision on Cherokee 4 today

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will likely decide this morning on the fate of the Denver-area Cherokee 4 coal-fired power plant unit – one of the last major sticking points in getting the state’s largest utility in compliance with the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act.

Scheduled today for 10 a.m. to noon at the PUC offices at 1560 Broadway in downtown Denver (2nd floor, suite 250, room A), the meeting will also be streamed live on the state regulatory board’s website.

Whatever alternative the three-member board decides on, Xcel must still agree to the plan, which also calls for six other coal-fired units at the three Front Range power plants to be shut down by 2017 and replaced with natural gas.

Coupled with new pollution controls at two other units, the total price tag for the legislatively mandated plan – which seeks to decrease nitrogen oxide pollution by up to 80 percent in order to come into compliance with federal clean-air standards – could be up to $900 million.

“The key question is whether these aging coal plants will be fully replaced by cleaner resources or if at least one major unit will be put on life support and kept operating,” said Environment Colorado’s Dana Hoffman, referring to Xcel’s desire to keep Cherokee Unit 4 running on coal. “And hanging in the balance is the air quality and quality of life for 3 million Coloradans for decades to come.”

The groundbreaking bill and the negotiations on the plan to meet its requirements have been held up by some observers as a potential model for the rest of the nation, but critics have said it unfairly targets the state’s coal industry and will be too costly for consumers.
“None of these scenarios are cheap,” PUC staff member Ron Davis told the Denver Post on Monday. “Rates are going to rise.”

But environmental groups counter the health costs of ongoing air pollution on Colorado’s Front Range also have to be taken into account.

“Over 60,000 of our children in the Denver metro area suffer from asthma,” Denver family practice physician Dr. Linda Montgomery said in an Environment Colorado press release. “It’s clear that incidence of asthma is strongly linked with levels of air pollution, a lot of which comes from burning coal. Considering asthma is an expensive and often life-long condition, I’d say shutting down coal and cleaning up our air is the best present we can give our kids this year.”

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