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Utilities reacts to White House power play 

click to enlarge Martin Drake Power Plant - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Martin Drake Power Plant

In what's being called the nation's biggest step toward combating climate change, President Obama unveiled the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan on Monday, requiring a 32 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. That's slightly higher than the 30 percent cut contained in an earlier plan draft.

The plan contains four "building blocks," which include improving efficiency of coal plants, increasing use of natural gas, increasing renewables and nuclear energy, and energy customers achieving greater efficiency.

The plan, coupled with other recent steps by Coloradans, pushes the state toward a less fossil-fuel-dependent future.

Colorado lawmakers passed a law in 2010 requiring that 30 percent of power distributed by investor-owned utilities come from renewable sources by 2020. The goal for municipal power operators is more modest; Colorado Springs Utilities aims to hit a self-imposed 20 percent threshold by 2020.

Vicki Card, permitting services supervisor in CSU's environmental department, says the city has "a diverse portfolio" of power resources, and is in "a pretty good place to determine how this plan is going to affect our future resource options." She adds that the coal-burning Martin Drake Power Plant, targeted by environmentalists for quick retirement, could burn natural gas.

Card, however, says the city still is working through the 1,500-page edict to determine its impact. The city's Energy Integration Resource Plan, a long-term road map for energy service, is due for approval by in October by the Utilities Board, comprised of City Council.

Environment Colorado said in a release that power plants emit more carbon dioxide than any other polluter group in the country. "Colorado has one of the most ambitious renewable electricity standards in the country, and as a result Colorado's current wind generation displaces enough global warming pollution per year to equal the effect of taking 525,000 cars off the road," the release said.

Last week, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, got a two-year extension of the wind production tax credit added to a bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee. Several major wind energy developers and turbine factories are located in Colorado and employ more than 6,000 workers statewide. In 2014, wind turbines in Colorado generated enough energy to power approximately 674,000 homes, accounting for 13.6 percent of the state's electricity generation, Bennet's office said in a release.

The solar industry also is growing. SunShare, started by Colorado College grad David Amster-Olszewski, recently energized its 2.5-megawatt Pikes Peak Solar Garden Site connected to CSU's grid. It's one of seven solar gardens built by SunShare in Colorado, two of them in Colorado Springs since 2012. Combined, they will generate enough power for 1,600 homes.

A study of the Clean Power Plan impacts commissioned by coal advocates and others found: "The net result would be an increase in energy system costs by about $479 billion in present value terms over the period from 2017 through 2031."

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