Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Pueblo could become "Colorado's clean energy hub" with coal plant closures

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 1:00 AM

click to enlarge JEFFREY BEALL
  • Jeffrey Beall

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission gave Xcel Energy unanimous verbal approval Aug. 27 to close two of the three coal-fired units at Pueblo's Comanche Generating Station, 10 years ahead of schedule.

Xcel will also invest $2.5 billion in renewable energy, including wind and solar generation and battery storage, as part of its Colorado Energy Plan. The plan was approved Aug. 27 by a 2-to-1 vote, says Utilities Commission spokesperson Terry Bote.

Currently, about 80 people work at Comanche Generating Station's two coal-fired units, Xcel spokesperson Michelle Aguayo says. Some current employees will be retiring when the units close in 2022 and 2025, she adds, and the rest will be trained to work in other jobs with the company.

One future project would include a new solar facility to power Pueblo's EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel, though that project needs to secure approval from the Utilities Commission separately. Xcel and EVRAZ recently agreed to a 22-year contract that clears the way for a potential $500 million expansion at the steel plant, the Pueblo Chieftain reports.

Xcel estimates that its new energy plan will mean Colorado could get 53 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2026 — an increase from 28 percent last year. The company also predicts the plan will save ratepayers $213 million, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions 60 percent from 2005 levels (though Bote says some Utilities Commission staff members thought those figures were overstated).

In 2017, 44 percent of Colorado's energy came from coal. The new plan would reduce coal dependence to just 24 percent by 2026, Xcel claims.

“By making this step change now, we reduce future fuel costs for the long term – and we can pass those savings directly along to our customers,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy—Colorado, is quoted in a company statement from the plan's June unveiling. “Our plan takes a significant step forward in transitioning our supply mix to cleaner and more diverse resources, benefiting our customers and the environment.”

Xcel's Colorado Energy Plan also includes solar and wind projects in Adams, Baca, Boulder, Kit Carson/Cheyenne, Morgan, Park and Weld counties. Pueblo County would be a leader, with 525 megawatts of solar power and 225 megawatts of battery storage.

“With approval of this plan, Pueblo is poised to become Colorado’s clean energy hub," David Cockrell, chair of the Colorado Sierra Club's Conservation Committee, is quoted in an Aug. 27 statement from the Sierra Club.

A new partnership between Pueblo Community College and NextEra Energy Resources would also push the city closer to that goal. NextEra plans to install 52 solar panels on Pueblo’s campus, and “provide training and curriculum to help the college create a pipeline of skilled workers for the rapidly evolving industry,” according to an Aug. 24 statement from the school.

The number of solar-panel installer jobs in the U.S. was expected to more than double between 2016 and 2026, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities has two solar projects coming online in 2020, after which 15 percent of its energy portfolio will come from renewable sources, says Utilities spokesperson Amy Trinidad. Currently, 11 percent of Utilities’ portfolio comes from renewables.

Colorado Springs’ controversial Martin Drake Power Plant, built in 1925, is slated to close no later than 2035 — though the Utilities Board, which is made up of City Council members, has toyed with the idea of accelerating the deadline.

Trinidad says the earliest the utility could have the infrastructure in place to allow for the closure would be 2023.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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