Colorado Air Act Targets Xcel Energy's Coal Plants

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week introduced the Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which will serve as a national model for reducing air pollution, increasing the use of cleaner energy sources and strengthening the economy.

Lead sponsors are Reps. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) and Judy Solano (D-Brighton) and Sens. Bruce Whitehead (D-Hesperus) and Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction).

A broad coalition including power companies, natural gas producers and conservationists worked with the Governor’s Office and lawmakers to craft the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. The bill requires Xcel Energy to sharply reduce air pollutants by retiring, retrofitting or repowering northern Front Range coal-fired power plants by the end of 2017 and replacing them with facilities fueled by natural gas and other low- or non-emitting energy sources, including increased energy efficiency measures.

Xcel Energy would work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to submit plans by Aug. 15 to the state Public Utilities Commissions to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at metro area coal plants by 70 percent to 80 percent by Dec. 31, 2017.

Xcel Energy’s plan would include an evaluation of retiring or retrofitting 900 megawatts of coal-fired capacity, giving primary consideration to replacing or repowering those plants with natural gas, renewable energy and other lower-emitting resources.

“As a legislator from Southwestern Colorado, I’ve had significant experience with the challenging issue of meeting federal air emissions standards while protecting our economy along with environmental and public health concerns,” Rep. Roberts said. “This bill presents a proactive and common sense approach to the same challenges now facing the Front Range. It’s only common sense that we better utilize Colorado’s own natural gas reserves to help the state meet the federal regulatory goals for cleaner air.”

“There are so many reasons I am proud of this bill,” Rep. Solano said. “It’s comprehensive. It’s Colorado-driven. It protects our clean air and it creates jobs, especially in the natural gas industry and renewable energy industries. This groundbreaking proposal will help stabilize utility bills for the people and the businesses of our state.”

The federal Clean Air Act requires Colorado to submit a plan to address regional haze by early next year or the EPA will write its own plan for Colorado. The proposed Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act will allow investor-owned utilities like Xcel Energy to help craft their own plans for how to meet new regional haze guidelines, as well as new mandates for ozone, mercury and carbon dioxide in one comprehensive analysis that will minimize costs and maximize emissions reductions. Also, it will create an economic development opportunity for Colorado’s homegrown resources such as natural gas, wind and solar.

“Xcel Energy has long supported efforts to address our region’s air quality in a pro-active, uniquely Colorado way; we have established a solid track record of successfully meeting such challenges,” said David Eves, president and chief executive officer for Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel Energy company. “We know that the Rocky Mountain region is experiencing issues with regional haze and ozone, and potentially other emissions issues. This legislation establishes a framework to address these air quality issues in a way that ultimately will be the most cost-effective for our customers, and best for the state of Colorado.”

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