Utilities Commission issues landmark Clean Air, Clean Jobs decision Children, families can breathe easier along the Front Range, yet one critical issue remains
DENVER, CO — In a bipartisan, unanimous decision, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) indicated their intention in deliberations today to approve a plan under the landmark “Clean Air, Clean Jobs” Act that would retire 4 Denver-metro coal-fired power units and switch the remaining unit to burning natural gas. Regulators have worked for eight months to implement the Act, which passed the legislature last spring, and created a framework for replacing old, inefficient and dirty coal-fired power generation with cleaner energy solutions that provide for healthier air and clean energy jobs for Colorado.
Clean Air, Clean Jobs was widely supported by a diverse group of energy companies, legislators from both political parties, public health advocates, local governments and conservation groups.
“By retiring over 500 megawatts of coal in the metro-area the Commission absolutely made landmark progress for air quality and public health,” said John Nielsen, energy program director with Western Resource Advocates. “However, by failing to set a firm retirement date for the last unit at Cherokee, the Commission’s work is unfinished. In deliberations the Commission found that a period of transition was needed in order to make the best decision around replacement resources, but until that facility is permanently shut down the risk remains that the largest source of pollution in the heart of Denver could be switched back to coal.”
The proceedings were at times contentious, with coal industry interest groups promoting a complete retrofit option, one that was far more costly and brought far fewer benefits for air quality and public health.
“Colorado is getting cleaner air and a stronger economy this holiday season,” said Pam Kiely, program director of Environment Colorado. “Despite the coal industry spending millions of dollars in a smear campaign to derail the proceedings, the Commission held strong and made a critical decision to clean up our air. This is a victory for the thousands of Coloradans that weighed-in, from doctors to small business owners to local officials, and we hope the Commission finishes strong by including a firm retirement date for Cherokee Four in their forthcoming order.”
By adopting a Clean Air, Clean Jobs scenario that entirely eliminates Xcel Energy’s use of coal in the Denver-metro area by 2017, the PUC achieves substantial public health benefits and health care cost savings for Coloradans.
"Replacing the aging, high emitting Denver metro area coal plants with a modern clean energy system is the most important step we can take to protect our children's health, said Vickie Patton, General Counsel of Environmental Defense. “We hope the Commission definitively addresses the phase out of Denver's single largest coal-fired emitter, Cherokee Unit 4, to secure a durable legacy of cleaner, healthier air for Colorado."
Part of what makes the Colorado effort such a compelling model is that leaders across the political spectrum coalesced around this innovative solution for clean air, and strong leadership from the Ritter Administration was a critical ingredient.
"This enormously exciting victory would never have been possible without Gov. Ritter's leadership—he absolutely was the X-factor, “ said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters. “As the champion of the New Energy Economy, he has ably steered Colorado towards 21st century solutions to our energy needs and this decisive step away from dirty coal is the capstone of his work."
Colorado has attracted national attention with this groundbreaking effort, signaling a dramatic shift in Colorado’s energy future.
“We applaud the monumental, forward thinking action that the PUC has taken to ensure a clean and affordable energy future for Coloradans,” said Roger Singer with Sierra Club. “We thank the commissioners and Xcel Energy for committing to moving beyond dirty coal, cleaning up our air quality and moving forward with cleaner energy options.”
“The Commissioners’ bold decision sends a strong signal nationwide that Colorado is continuing to lead the way in building a new energy economy and ensuring that traditional resource development is done right,” added Elise Jones, executive direction of Colorado Environmental Coalition.
The coal-fired plants under consideration in this are over forty years old. These plants face major capital investments in modern pollution control equipment to protect human health and the environment.
A formal written ruling will be issued by December 15th.