PUC votes to have Xcel shut six coal-fired plants

Pollution controls approved for Hayden Station power plant in Routt County

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Affected units

• Cherokee Station Unit 1, in Adams County, in 2011

• Cherokee Station Unit 2 in 2011

• Cherokee Station Unit 3 in 2017

• Arapahoe Unit 3, in Denver, in 2013

• Arapahoe Unit 4 would stop burning coal in 2014 and switch to natural gas

• Valmont Station Unit 5, in Boulder, in 2017

— The Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted Monday to shut six aging Front Range coal-fired power units and allow Xcel Energy to replace them with a new $530 million gas-fired plant.

Pollution controls, with a $340 million price tag, also were approved for the coal-burning Pawnee plant near Brush and the Hayden plant.

The commission still must decide what to do with the largest coal-burning plant in the Denver area — the Cherokee 4 unit.

"Cherokee 4 is the largest source of air pollution in the Denver area, and it needs to be shut," said John Nielson, energy-program director for the environmental-policy group Western Resource Advocates.

The closures, which will occur between 2011 and 2017, are part of Xcel's proposal to meet the state Clean Air- Clean Jobs Act, which seeks to cut nitrogen-oxide pollution by 70 to 80 percent.

Xcel would receive accelerated cost recovery for the investments in a comprehensive plan to cut pollution under the law.

The state is out of compliance with federal clean-air health standards and has to submit a plan next year to the Environmental Protection Agency showing steps to cut pollution.

Xcel, which serves 1.4 million people in Colorado, proposed a series of options with costs that reached as high as $1.3 billion.

"None of these scenarios are cheap," said PUC staffer Ron Davis. "Rates are going to rise."

Commission Chairman Ron Binz said the hope was that a comprehensive plan to cut pollution would be "more cost-effective."

While six units at three plants will be shut, the fate of Cherokee 4 is more complicated. Xcel says it needs that unit or another one to ensure electricity reliability in the region.

Xcel's preferred alternative is to add pollution controls to Cherokee 4 and keeping burning coal.

Western Resource Advocates and other environmental groups want Cherokee 4 closed in 2017 and replaced with a gas-fired unit.

On Monday, Binz offered another option — switching Cherokee 4 to natural gas to allow for more time to explore other alternatives.

The commission is slated to make a decision Wednesday and to review cost issues related to the plan.

"We will have to see the whole package to determine if it is doable," said Karen Hyde, Xcel vice president for rates and regulation.

Mark Jaffe: 303-954-1912 or mjaffe@denverpost.com

Comments

Fred Duckels 4 years ago

The consumers will take the hit here. Excel doesn't care about the fuel used, as they are guaranteed a profit. We penalize ourselves, giving China etc. a huge edge in costs based on a warming theory that has much left to explain. We need to know the truth before self destructing.

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Fred Duckels 4 years ago

Our local economy will be left with one gingerbread resort to carry the load, maybe we should widen our scope. This is much more significant that the next bycicle festival.

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muck 4 years ago

But yet another HUGE blow to our local economy. Thanks MR Ritter for screwing us in Routt County. Your departure from office cannot come soon enough. Enjoy your payoff while HARD WORKING PEOPLE suffer this holiday season. Leave it to a DUMBOACRAT TO KEEP SCREWING US!!

End the war on drugs! End the war on Terror!

START THE WAR ON JOBLESSNESS!!

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JustSomeJoe 4 years ago

as long as you are making money (good right?) you have the inherent right to lessen the quality of life for others. Xcel's right to make a buck supersedes someone else's right to clean air? No kidding it is going to cost, but until energy that pollutes, kills and ravages our quality of life gets more expensive the industry and the consumers aren't going to put an emphasis on cleaner energy. Just mine baby mine isn't a sound strategy.

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doug monger 4 years ago

Extremely disappointing, but absolutely not surprising. Since the PUC colluded with the Democratic majority in both houses, Gas intervenors, the environmentalists, and the Governor's office, this deal was sealed when HB 10-1365 entered the legislative arena, hence the short time frame from introduction to signing. Not to mention that the Chairman of the PUC and another member of the PUC should have been disqualified from the proceeding by prejudging the docket(motion filed, backed up by FOIA records obtained), not to mention, that the cleaned up coal option met ALL of the clean air standards, including any "reasonable foreseable" regulations that might come down the road, and was also the hands down cheapest option for the ratepayers, (PUC's job is to represent the rate payers), not to mention, that this was to clean up the front range-Colorado air quality, when the air quality issue is us all driving our gas guzzlers. Almost humerous that Chairman Binz indicated that he advocated monies be set aside to re-train and re-mobolize unemployed coal miners. Where, and to do what, do we think there are jobs that we can retrain this speciality work force into a labor market that doesn't exist. Maybe we can retrain them in the renewable energy business, think about it NOT!!! I was surprised that Chairman Binz did not think about setting up a set aside for the amount of monies that the local governments of Northwestern Colorado will no longer receive. The bottom line is this work force will leave our area with their high paying jobs and go to areas that support extraction industries that improve our environmental conditions, and local governments will have less revenue to take care of local government needs (Twentymile coal largest taxpayer in the county). Extremely disappointing in a time when we are trying to create jobs and prop up the stagnant economy, we would hurt one of the most important "OTHER-non tourism" industries that create and maintain long term high paying jobs in our two county region. Also don't think that you won't be affected. We are included in the rate payers, so not only do we take it on the short end on the labor and employment side, we will get to share in the solution to the front range HAZE solution, the initial rate forcasts included a 50% increase in rates just to take care of the decommissioning and rebuilding of the gas plants, that does not include the continued increase in utilities based on the fuel costs(not yet known, could be as much as 200%, sorry no one really knows the number), realizing that we now are heading into a solesource fuel source and will be subject in the long term to the Natural Gas Markets. I'm sure we will get over this, and the world will go on, but I guarantee, that our Governor and our legislators and the Enviro's have insured that the economic recovery in NW Colo. will be longer and deeper than needed no matter happens globally.

Doug Monger Routt County Commissioner

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kyle pietras 4 years ago

Choose your poison, burning coal pollutes the air, drilling for gas and oil pollutes the water...

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pitpoodle 4 years ago

I rarely agree with you Doug Monger but in this case you are quite correct.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Kyle, Except these changes do not appear to be the result of looking at the actual emissions from the plants but from a policy to switch to nat gas even if emission controls would allow using the coal plants at a lower cost than nat gas and at the same level of emissions.

It would make much more economic sense if the PUC were to specify pollution limits onto Xcel and let Xcel decide how to meet those goals. PUC should not be making decisions on how to operate various plants. Even worse is for the PUC to make off the wall suggestions like running Cherokee 4 on nat gas. Even I know that a modern nat gas electric plant uses nat gas turbines to benefit from the expansion of nat gas as it burns plus a heat recovery (water->steam to spin steam turbines), not as a replacement heat source in a plant designed for coal. It would be exceptionally stupid to burn nat gas in Cherokee 4 where it would take twice as much nat gas to produce the same electricity from a nat gas power plant.

The goals are not the issue. How those goals are met are the issue and the PUC is not going to let Xcel do that in the most cost effective way. Since Xcel is a regulated utility then they are just going to be allowed to past their costs to the consumers so it will be the citizens of Colorado that pays for the PUC's insistence of putting ideology in front of pragmatism.

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kathy foos 4 years ago

We have to get away from petroleum products ,not move further toward them only in a different way,Converting to gas is expensive,why not go green expensively and get wind solar bio fuels etc?We cannot keep going petroleum. Keep the coal and drop the gas,that sounds absurd to go to gas,put it to vote to the Colorado voters! This is a big issue,At least the mine here will still be needed, Dont invest in oil, for our childrens future? Use it now,but get away from oil in the future,going to gas only makes matters worse.And we we to go gas for what reason???????....Not!!!! Ask the voters.

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Fred Duckels 4 years ago

I understand that gas plants come on line much quicker than coal, and give wind and solar a better chance to contribute. With coal, the plants must run continously rendering the alternates mostly a feel good experiment. Why not follow Boone Pickens and use gas to power vehicles, leaving coal for electricity? Wind and solar are feel good sources that we cannot afford with our - 14T pocketbook. Al Gore was last seen heading south with his Pulitzer under his arm and tail between his legs. We cannot bankrupt ourselves on an ideological theory with much left to explain. I would like to know the truth, but have some real reservations about the story that is being imposed. Regardless, this movement is penetrating every aspect of our lives and will quickly lower our relevance in the world.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Fred, I think the Left has largely settled on the idea of coal is bad. Moderate Democrats would be fine with T Boone Picken's plan. But when the Republicans seem to have agreed upon no need to do anything, oil is fine philosophy then it leaves just too few people behind his ideas

I note that T Boone believes his plan strengthens the US because it leads to energy independence, reducing imports and puts us as a low carbon producer. Which we will have to be if we want to remain a global power with friends. It will become impossible for our friends to withstand internal political pressures to support the US when they think they are dealing with global climate change issues while the US has done less than any other developed country to reduce emissions. And the EU already is facing pressure to institute a carbon tariff on imports based upon carbon emissions of the country of origin.

Seems to me what is needed is Republicans joining the debate not as denying that anything should be done, but since we have to do this then we might as well do it using the power of capitalism to innovate and not the power of government to dictate.

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Fred Duckels 4 years ago

Scott, One thing is for certain, we need to decrease our need for oil. I have followed both sides of the warming question, as it seems to be the center of the problem. Much activity follows the premise that CO2 is the cullprit. This is much like the last real estate boom with nearly everyone (me excluded) chasing their tails. The East Anglia E mails and other evidence leads me to suspect that this may be more ideology than fact. The whole world has good reason to bleed, or weaken us by using this theory to their advantge. Developing countries are salivating at the idea of selling us their carbon offsets. This would help level the playing field for Europe. This is income redistribution on steroids. Al Gore and others were positoined in the carbon trading exchange looking to reap fortunes. We are already making expensive decisions assuming that the herd mentality can't be wrong. We might be borrowing from China to make payments to them under this arrangement. Scientists will always find impending doom as it keeps them in work as long as the political stars are aligned. I'm a pretty simple person but I don't feel like betting the farm on what I have seen.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Fred, The idea of climate change goes back to the early 70s. I think it is simply wrong to compare the tendency of the media to hype some unexpected and portending doom scientists whose work is not validated by other scientists (wthose articles are rarely mentioned by the media) to global climate change that has all sorts of scientists finding similar effects.

The East Anglia emails and such proved nothing. There were two independent reviews that found some poor behavior among rivals, but found nothing was fabricated or fraud. It has also been widely noted that East Anglia's datasets are pretty consistent with other people's datasets independently created. East Anglia is a little bit special because they had access to England's and their colonial climate records which had better worldwide coverage than most others.

I doubt that Germany and the rest of Europe have any intent on sending vast sums of money to developing countries. The general intent of giving developing countries some carbon offsets is not some massive transfer of wealth, but to justify giving technological assistance because the developing country gets some carbon offsets in return. The developed countries intend to primarily meet the standards by making changes within their borders, not by offsets. Europe is not economically threatened by the US, trade is close enough to balanced and some of the things we do to be more competitive are things they culturally do not want to do. Europe is far more concerned by China.

Also, few think we are betting the farm. First, the amount we pay for electricity has gone down as a percentage of income. So, the advocates such as the PUC argue, that the public can afford to pay the sort of extra costs of shutting down these plants. Unfortunately, that argument is being twisted to believe that it is basically free and thus removing any responsibility that this "free money" is being well spent.

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Troutguy 4 years ago

Acccording to Excel energy, residential bills would rise and average of 2.4%. That adds up to about $1.40 a month on the average bill and it will be phased in over 10 years, starting in 2011. Hardly a substantial financial increase, especially since this plan is expected to cut nitrogen oxide, a key ingredient in smog, by 86%.

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Fred Duckels 4 years ago

Scott, I don't have the background, time and probably intellect to know one way or the other about the validity of the warming, climate change etc. or whatever it is called this week. I have followed both sides of the arguement which is probably more than most can say. It is essential that we identify the truth, or the extra inpetus can have disastrous results on our teetering financial situation. Proponents of this theory come predominantly from the left side of our political spectrum,interesting. There seems to be the feeling from this group that the solutions to solve this problem coincide with what they seem to call the "right thing to do". It seems that this warming might be a political tool to accomplish ends that were already identified. We have many of the zealots warning us of impending doom, if we don't act within a set date, usually ridiculously close. This smacks of the same crisis atmosphere used for the last two years to enact legislation. The science is "settled", fools rush in where angels fear to tread. It would take God himself to set a drop dead date. I could go on for hours here with examples of incompetence. I have lived a long time and reading between the lines often reveals more than most intellectual displays. We need to know the truth before "betting the farm", but as is usually the case in politics don't hold your breath.

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mavis 4 years ago

Trout--- Please do a little investigating and let us know how safe you think the water in the state is going to be?? How safe are the massive lines going to be when the government determines they can't keep up with the up - keep on the nat gas lines like the water and sewer infrastructure that is about to collapse--- when it is all regulated and controlled by the gov it is not going to work very well and they are jumping ship prematurely just to satisfy the current "green" thinking that is unknown.

Really can't we adapt what we have and learn from it? Modify it to make it effective and efficient, affordable and sustainable? Lets stop throwing money at ideas to just "feel" better.

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Fred Duckels 4 years ago

Recently I said that biodiversity will carry on as Al Gore retreats. Lo and behold the Wolverine shows up in the news today as needing endangered species protection. This was predictable and the EPA will force the issue at every turn. The ideologues pushing this fiasco could care less about the unintended consequences, too bad that they don't run a business with no safety net from daddy. The voters are wising up but the undercurrent from the left may well neuter them.

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