GRAND JUNCTION — When Craig resident Matt Winey’s name was called on a speaker system Monday night in Grand Junction, he was met with applause, whistling and shouts of encouragement from the audience.
Winey, a shift foreman for Twentymile Coal Co., located east of Craig, knew why he received the applause.
“You might wonder why I got all the applause,” he said speaking to a crowd of hundreds. “It’s (because) I’m just one of the coal miners here. I’m one of the ones … afraid this bill is going to do away with my job.”
Winey was one of several coal miners that spoke to members of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in Grand Junction during a public input session on the fallout from Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act.
The PUC took testimony and comments from about 30 people, mostly Western Slope residents, about Xcel Energy’s emission reduction plans required by the bill.
The bill requires Xcel to submit emission reduction plans for several Front Range power plants that “give primary consideration to replacing or re-powering coal-fired electric generators with natural gas and to also consider other low-emitting resources including energy efficiency,” according to the bill.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Quality Control Commission reviewed the plans before they were submitted to the PUC for consideration.
The plan seeks to retire 903 megawatts of coal generation at the 186-megawatt Valmont Station and the 717-megawatt Cherokee Station by the end of 2017.
The plan also seeks to re-power the Cherokee Station with 883 megawatts of natural gas generation. Xcel also plans to switch Arapahoe Station’s unit-four with 111 megawatts of natural gas.
The 446-megawatt Hayden Station and the 505-megawatt Pawnee Station will be retrofitted with “modern emission control technology,” according to the release.
The meeting started in the Mesa County Commissioners public hearing room in downtown Grand Junction, but was moved outside when both the hearing room and the room designated for overflowing attendees were both filled.
The PUC heard comments on both sides of the bill, and among the topics most discussed were jobs, energy diversity,
pending federal air quality regulations and the importance of energy jobs to communities.
Chad Day, a longwall utility foreman for Twentymile, testified to the commission about what he thought would happen if Xcel’s emission reduction plan was approved by the PUC.
“(House Bill) 1365 is not a good choice for Northwest Colorado,” he said to the commission. “If you wipe out 300 jobs in Northwest Colorado, you are going to wipe out another six, eight, 10, 12, 20,000 jobs.”
Day also told the commission the effects of the bill will spread far and could force some miners to move.
“We enjoy where we live,” he said. “We don’t want to move, and nobody wants to go anywhere. You take this bill and you put it into effect, you are looking for bigger troubles than you want.”
Day said two buses filled with coal miners who worked for Twentymile were taken to Grand Junction so the miners could voice their opinions, in addition to about 60 people who drove on their own.
Day estimated about 300 coal miners from the Western Slope attended the meeting — a number he said was encouraging.
“We figured that is was something that needed to be taken care of and try to get it bit in the butt before it goes through,” he said. “And get these guys thinking that maybe they’re screwed up in the head.”
Jack Reed, a Twentymile utility foreman, asked the PUC to send someone to Northwest Colorado to “see what you guys are going to ruin if you let this go through.”
After his testimony, Reed said he thought it was great to see so many coal miners were interested in voicing their opinion about what the future of coal might be.
“What people may not realize is … these guys are down here on their own time,” he said of the numerous coal miners at the meeting. “They are not getting paid to do this. We believe in our future, and we want to do something about it.”
Reed said he didn’t think the PUC expected all of the coal miners to show up, or that moving the meeting outside would be needed.
Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources Director and Club 20 chairman, also testified.
Moffat County Commissioners Audrey Danner, Tom Gray and Tom Mathers attended the meeting, but did not testify to the PUC.
The PUC has scheduled evidentiary hearings in Denver on the proposed plan from Oct. 21 through Nov. 3.
A second public comment hearing is scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at the PUC building in Denver. The PUC is required to issue a decision on the plans by Dec. 15.