Colorado approves Xcel’s plan to cut coal, boost renewables

Xcel Energy’s plan to boost wind, solar and cut coal for power generation is approved, but critics say it will cost ratepayers millions of dollars.

Xcel Energy Colorado’s Clean Energy Plan

The plan, approved Monday, would:

  • close 660 MW of coal-fired generation a decade earlier than scheduled.
  • invest $2.5 billion in renewable energy and battery storage.
  • save Colorado ratepayers an estimated $213 million.

Xcel Energy Colorado’s plan to boost the share of power it gets from wind and solar and retire a third of its coal generation was overwhelmingly passed Monday by the Public Utility Commission.

The plan is part of the utility’s long-term strategy to shift away from fossil fuel generation and invest in renewable energy. By 2021, Xcel forecasts that wind will be its single biggest resource for power generation.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper tweeted the PUC’s approval “is good for our future, retires coal plants, advances renewables and costs less.”

“Perfect alignment with our EO to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “Coloradans leading the way. Nice work!”

Signaling its intent to dramatically cut coal as a power resource, Xcel in June had announced that Unit I at its coal-fired Comanche Generating Station would be retired in 2022, 11 years early, while Unit II in 2025, 10 years ahead of schedule. There are 80 jobs on the line and by 2025, workers will either retire or be placed in new positions.

The station’s Unit III would remain in operation.

Coal made up 44% of Colorado’s electric generation last year, and the proposal would decrease that generation to 24%, according to the Denver Post.

Environmental groups support the plan, while critics such as the Independence Institute – a libertarian think tank – say it will cost ratepayers.

“Retiring Comanche I and II early will be a boon to Wall Street at the expense of Main Streets across Colorado,” Amy Oliver Cooke, director of the Coalition of Ratepayers and executive vice president at the Independence Institute, said in a released statement.

“We are disappointed that the Commissioners didn’t require the monopoly utility to keep its promise of a Colorado Energy Plan that saves money for customers.”


 

“The plan is a clear rebuttal to the notion that we have to choose between affordable electricity rates and clean air,” said Zach Pierce, senior campaign representative for Colorado Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in a statement.

 


Xcel plans to buy two existing gas-fired generating plants in Colorado and add five solar farms and three wind farms.

Some of the new solar farms would be built in Pueblo County, which includes the city of Pueblo. The utility’s plans for wind could also provide a boost for Vestas, which has manufacturing plant in the city.

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Image of a field of solar panels and windmills in the desert.