Colorado Energy Plan Approval Will Mean New Renewable Energy Investments in Rural Colorado

By: Joe Smyth

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel Energy’s Colorado Energy Plan yesterday, greenlighting the plan to close two units at the Comanche coal plant in Pueblo Colorado, and replace that power with a mix of new renewable energy and battery storage projects along with existing natural gas plants.

Xcel Energy’s plan attracted national attention this year due to the proposals for large scale battery storage projects and unprecedented bids for cheap new wind and solar energy. In Colorado, the plan attracted support from labor, business, environmental, and community organizations, thanks to its expected economic and health benefits.

A report this week from the Colorado Fiscal Institute found that closing the two coal units would reduce air pollutants in Pueblo and Colorado, leading to fewer asthma attacks, emergency rooms visits, and other health problems. A June report from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the plan would create hundreds of new jobs, boost local tax revenue, and provide a net positive economic impact to the state - mostly by avoiding nearly $1 billion in coal purchases from Wyoming.

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Rural Colorado counties have recently attracted new jobs from renewable energy projects, and Public Utilities Commission's approval of the Colorado Energy Plan will lead to another $2.5 billion investment and further expansion of those industries, particularly in Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Weld, Baca, and Pueblo counties.

Commissioners from several counties in Colorado’s Eastern Plains wrote to the Public Utilities Commission to highlight the economic benefits of the Colorado Energy Plan in the region:

The corollary economic impact on Colorado’s rural counties cannot be understated. Rural Colorado is proud to be a leader in renewable energy production, delivering reliable energy resources that support competitive energy rates across the state. The increase in renewable energy projects in rural communities has had a significant positive impact on our local economies. These economic benefits extend well beyond the short-term construction phase. The long-term assets proposed for construction increase the local tax base which helps fund local services, public safety, schools, and libraries. The projects provide desirable and high paying jobs that keeps local workers in our communities and drive new vocational training at local community colleges. For projects on private land, local land owners receive stable long-term lease payments that reduce reliance on erratic commodity prices.

Other utilities in the Rocky Mountain region could also reduce costs by replacing coal plants with a mix of new renewable energy projects and market purchases. A report from Rocky Mountain Institute last week found that Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association could save its 43 member cooperatives over $600 million by shifting from coal to renewable energy, and the Denver Post reported that “Tri-State officials planned to meet in Denver on Thursday to discuss boosting the use of renewable energy sources.”  

A report from Energy Strategies also found that Pacificorp could reduce costs for its customers by closing higher cost coal units, including the Craig and Hayden coal plants in Colorado, in favor of new wind energy projects. Other utilities in Colorado like Platte River Power Authority and Black Hills Energy are also planning new wind energy projects as a way to reduce costs.

And Xcel Energy itself could pursue a broader transition away from coal - Executive Vice President David Eves said at a conference this year that the Pueblo coal units "will not be the last coal plant we retire early."

Article used with permission from Joe Smyth, read it and more reactions to the Public Utilities Commission approval of the Colorado Energy Plan at CleanCooperative.com.