Public Utilities Commission examines coal plans, could rule Wednesday
Gov. Ritter’s statement on PUC Clean Air, Clean Jobs deliberations
Gov. Bill Ritter released a statement Monday night on the Colorado Public Utilities Commission debating Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act.
Ritter, according to the statement, is encouraging the PUC to “fully implement this landmark legislation” that calls for transitioning power plants from coal-fired electricity to natural gas.
The full statement is below:
“For the past four years, we have established Colorado as a national and international leader in building a New Energy Economy,” Ritter said. “We have created thousands of jobs, adopted 57 forward-thinking laws and built a clean-energy economy that is now a model for other states to follow. The capstone to all of this is the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, a bipartisan initiative supported by a broad coalition of interests that will again make Colorado a national energy trendsetter.
“The Act provides a cost-effective path for a uniquely Colorado plan to comply with federal clean-air regulations. Poor air quality impacts everyone, particularly children, senior citizens, those who are ill and other vulnerable residents. Among the most important elements of the Act – the opportunity to clean our air while building local economies.
“The bipartisan Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act provides the path forward for Colorado to fully transition by 2017 from the largest sources of pollution in the Denver metro area — delivering healthier air, a steady flow of clean electricity, and a stronger clean energy economy."
Vince Reed, a Craig resident and electrician at Twentymile Coal Co., spent most of Monday’s daylight hours asleep. He was resting for the hours of hard work awaiting him during his graveyard shift at the coal mine.
While Reed slept, however, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission debated emission reduction plans filed by Xcel Energy that he contends could force him and many other miners at Twentymile out of a job.
The plans being considered are required by Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act. The bill would seek to retire coal-fired generation at several Colorado power plants and re-power those and other plants with natural gas power or modern emissions control technology.
“I feel almost betrayed,” the 43-year-old Reed said of Xcel’s plan.
The PUC deliberated on Xcel’s plan for more than three hours Monday, PUC spokesman Terry Bote said. The commissioners reached general agreement on some parts of a plan proposed by Xcel, but an entire plan was not approved, Bote said.
The PUC is scheduled to resume deliberations Wednesday with a possible oral ruling coming then.
After the PUC decides on a plan, under the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, Xcel has the “right to say, ‘We don’t like that’ and walk away,’” Bote said.
The PUC, Bote said, has reviewed all of the testimony entered into the case, which included written and oral testimony from hundreds of Northwest Colorado residents during PUC public comment hearings in Denver and Grand Junction.
“Everything that was submitted as part of this docket has been reviewed and is under consideration in the decision,” Bote said. “All of the parties presented their witnesses, everybody had a chance to cross-examine everybody else … all of the evidence is going to be considered.”
Reed said Xcel’s proposed emission reduction plans put Northwest Colorado “on the chopping block.”
“It’s tough you know,” he said as he drove to work Monday. “I got six kids, four of them still at home. I think that I am fortunate to be in a trade as an electrician that should things go bad later on down the road, I am probably a little bit more fortunate than most to be able to maybe go out and find a different job or move to a different area.
“That weighs heavily on my mind about the future of my job and the future for this valley.”
In the weeks and months leading up to the PUC’s deliberation of the plans, Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he has felt increasingly dejected.
“I’m feeling like maybe we lost,” Mathers said. “With everything we tried doing, it fell on deaf ears. We wanted our voice to be heard. We did everything we thought possible to get the message across and it was kind of just set that this was the way it was going to come out.”
More than 1,500 documents have been submitted as part of the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act docket, Bote said.
Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner said she was concerned the PUC did not have enough time to give those documents sufficient consideration.
“Let’s slow down this process and review that and make a thoughtful, careful decision,” Danner said. “They are working within the constraints of this Dec. 15 deadline, and that to me seems to take precedence over a careful decision that will carry us into the future with our industries and our resources and our utilities.”
Danner said she would like the PUC to extend the deadline for ruling on the plans.
One of the things Mathers said he was upset by was the result of a motion for two of the PUC commissioners to disqualify themselves from ruling on the plans.
Bote said the motion cited the “participation by the commissioners in helping to draft or develop the language of the legislation.”
However, the PUC deliberated on the motion and denied it in late October.
Mathers said he was anything but happy about the PUC’s decision.
“When there is a conflict of interest and they have to make a ruling on whether they can still sit on the board and make the final decision on how this affects the rate payers, how can they be their own judge?” he said.
In the face of a pending approval of Xcel’s plans, Reed said he thought there was at least one good thing that came out of the last several months concerning the bill. Reed feels proud the Northwest Colorado community turned out by the hundreds to protest the bill and Xcel’s plans.
“I felt good that our community spoke up the way that they did, even if it wasn’t for anything,” he said.
When asked if such community support would help Northwest Colorado residents fight for local coal interests in the future, Reed said he could only hope.
“I hope that as a company we are strong enough to gather additional coal sales and continue to move on,” he said. “That the people that work out there are able to continue to work out there and support their families and live their lives in this valley so they don’t have to go someplace else.”