Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Chairman Ron Binz – a GOP and coal industry piñata the last several months – called it quits Thursday, telling the Denver Post he’s returning to consulting work for groups that promote clean energy.
Binz also said he hopes to put a period on perhaps the most controversial file still on the PUC’s docket: an Xcel Energy and Tri-State transmission line to solar power plants in the San Luis Valley that would cross the sprawling Trinchera Ranch.
The biologically diverse, 171,000-acre ranch used to be owned by publisher and political candidate Steve Forbes until he sold it to hedge fund billionaire Louis Bacon for $175 million in 2007. Bacon has been battling Xcel to block the line, insisting cheaper, better, less environmentally destructive routes are available.
Binz has been under fire for that case but also for his role in approving an Xcel Energy deal to comply with last year’s Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, which will shut down some aging coal-fired power plants on the Front Range and convert others to run on natural gas and renewable energy.
The state’s coal industry claims Binz improperly negotiated the deal with the utility, and several Republican state lawmakers unsuccessfully called on Gov. Bill Ritter to remove Binz.
Now Gov. John Hickenlooper must pick his successor. The governor Thursday issued the following statement:
“I am grateful for Ron Binz and his vision that was instrumental in earning Colorado its national and international reputation as a clean energy leader. Under his leadership, Colorado now is recognized as having excellent utility practices.
“Binz’s support of energy-efficiency and renewable energy technologies, including the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, will leave Colorado in a better position for providing affordable, clean energy to power our businesses and homes. In the state and nationally, we have all benefited from Binz’s service.”
Binz will remain as chairman of the PUC until Hickenlooper makes the new appointment.