Opinion: 12 years is too long to let the Comanche 3 coal-fired electricity plant keep running

State regulators have an opportunity to reconsider. They should take it.

 

By Laura Weinberg and Dan Richardson. Published in The Colorado Sun, April 16, 2022

Link to the original article 

As mayors who represent Coloradans in Xcel Energy’s service territory, we urge the Public Utilities Commission to reconsider Xcel’s settlement decision that would keep the state’s largest climate-polluting coal plant open until 2035, and instead ensure that the coal plant is replaced by cleaner, more affordable electricity before 2030.

The climate crisis weighs heavy on our minds as community leaders. Every year we’ve seen more record-breaking weather events, from extreme cold to extreme heat, and Colorado’s prospects of beating the drought aren’t looking much better. We all cherish our natural resources and recreation opportunities. But climate-driven wildfires, decreasing snowpack, and increased haze and pollution challenge our very way of life.  

Meanwhile, rising fuel prices are showing how our reliance on fossil fuels can bring unexpected burdens to people heating their homes and businesses and filling up at the pump. We hear all the time from folks we represent who agree that we need to transition to more clean energy, and climate scientists say we need to do it fast. 

This is why it’s so important that the biggest coal plant in Colorado, Comanche 3, be replaced by clean, renewable energy as soon as possible, and certainly before 2030.

Last year, Xcel reached a settlement with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and other parties to keep the Comanche 3 coal unit in Pueblo burning coal for 12 more years. No environmental groups signed off on the plan and community members overwhelmingly opposed the plan at the local hearing. Comanche 3 emits harmful air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides that residents breathe every day, while the power from the coal plant is shipped to customers in other parts of Colorado.

Up until this point, investigations by state regulators have proven the Comanche 3 coal unit to be a billion-dollar investment gone wrong. The coal unit has been broken with an ongoing generator failure for the last two months, another frustrating chapter in the long story of an expensive and unreliable coal plant.

It was down for nearly all of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 and overall, it has been 45 percent more expensive than originally projected. If the PUC allows Xcel to keep this coal plant open, then Coloradans who are already seeing higher energy bills would have to pay to keep getting electricity from the state’s biggest climate polluter for another unpredictable decade.

As Colorado Communities for Climate Action wrote in its Dec. 6, 2021, comment letter:

“In addition to being Colorado’s single most egregious greenhouse gas pollution source, the Comanche 3 plant continues to be extremely unreliable and costly. The total price tag to build the plant was $784 million, which was $100 million more than expected. And because the plant is so expensive to operate, it has cost another $72 million to fix and maintain between 2011 and 2020. Xcel needs to retire this plant as quickly as possible, which will save money for ratepayers and dramatically reduce toxic air pollution in Pueblo.”

Xcel has an opportunity here to commit to protecting our residents, not just by keeping costs low, but by transforming our grid to be healthier for our air and families.  A just transition to a clean-energy economy is possible for our state.

Despite setbacks during the pandemic, Colorado is set to have a significant number of green jobs in its economy, which provide local benefits to every corner of the state, including better air quality and added tax revenue. This state can also create thousands of jobs by promoting energy efficiency and clean building construction, which reduces climate pollution and wasteful energy practices. 

The decision about whether to let Xcel keep burning coal in Colorado past 2030 will be a historic one for our state’s energy transition. For the sake of grid reliability, affordability, and the urgent need for the clean energy transition, we urge the PUC to require Xcel Energy to either retire the Comanche 3 unit as soon as possible before 2030 or defer the decision to a later date to collect more information and so more Coloradans can weigh in on their climate future. 

Laura Weinberg is mayor of Golden. Dan Richardson is mayor of Carbondale.