DENVER — When Colorado Public Utilities Commission Chairman Ron Binz sat in his chair Thursday before a public comment hearing, he paused a moment.
“I’ve been in churches that are louder than this,” he said, commenting on the tense silence of the crowd.
The PUC took public comments Thursday from hundreds of attendees on Xcel Energy’s emission reduction plans required by Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act.
A variety of people commented to the PUC about the plans including representatives from the coal and railroad industries, as well as doctors, activists and others.
According to a news release from Xcel, emission reduction plans call for retiring 903 megawatts of coal generation at its 186-megawatt Valmont Station and 717-megawatt Cherokee station.
They also entail re-powering the Cherokee Station with 883 megawatts of natural gas generation and switching to natural gas generation at the Arapahoe Station’s 111-megawatt unit four.
Plans also call for retrofitting 951 megawatts of coal-fired generation at the 505-megawatt Pawnee Station and the 446-megawatt Hayden Station with “modern emission control technology.”
The PUC must issue a decision on the plans by Dec. 15, according to a news release from the PUC.
Craig resident Kerry Moe, a write-in candidate for Moffat County Commission, was the first person to testify to the commission.
“I feel that the implementation of House Bill 1365 will devastate my community,” she said. “I feel it will devastate my business.”
Moe invited the crowd to visit Northwest Colorado and see how the community would be impacted if Xcel’s plans are approved.
“Please come see how we coexist with the beautiful wildlife, the natural habitat that we have (and) how well we survive with our energy,” she said.
Moe also warned the PUC to not be “tantalized by the promises that have been made by this bill.”
“I feel this bill will create a severe hardship for us, for our community and for our very survival,” she said.
Moffat County Tourism Association Director Marilynn Hill testified to the PUC about the jobs that could be lost because of the bill.
“(The plans) threaten not only mining jobs, but the long-term health of Colorado,” she said. “Mining jobs do not exist in a vacuum — for these jobs (are) the life blood of our communities because of the community foundation they provide. If jobs are lost, families will be devastated.”
Hill said much of Northwest Colorado’s economic activity exists because of the “trickle down effects of these jobs.”
“The lodging industry … retail industry (and) schools all are interconnected and all will suffer, some more and some to the point where they will completely disappear,” she said.
Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership Director Darcy Trask asked the PUC to deny Xcel’s plans on the grounds they do not address the economic impacts to coal mining communities.
“It has been said 1365 is about managing a policy issue from the 303 area code instead of the 202 area code,” she said. “I am here to remind you that Colorado has, in fact, three area codes — 303, 719 and 970.”
Trask said the PUC should deny the plans because increases in energy rates have not been fully studied.
“Right now there is wildly divergent economic impact data that suggest cost increases from anywhere from 1 percent to 50 percent, and that is a big difference,” she said.
Trask said the PUC should make decisions in favor of economic development and growth for businesses that depend on “reliable and affordable electricity.”
“As rates begin to climb, commercial users will see this important cost of doing business eat into profits,” she said. “Colorado will become less competitive and we will see jobs leave every part of the state.”
Moffat County resident Harry Peroulis urged the PUC to “use caution in your decision” during his testimony.
“You can’t un-ring a bell,” he said.
Peroulis said the state is relying on the PUC to “look out for all of us.”
Peroulis also advocated for the consideration of clean coal technology in Xcel’s plans.
“To say that this is coal’s fault, and it’s coal’s problem and it is all at the expense of coal that we ought to look to the future, I think we ought to consider that technology is as big as the stars,” he said.
Charles Thompson, a Craig resident and geologist, focused his testimony on advocating the use of clean coal technology, instead of the plans Xcel submitted.
Thompson said Northwest Colorado coal is “ideal” for clean coal technology because it “already meets many of these standards.”
“There are retrofits to coal-burning plants that can improve them,” he said. “In fact, I live in Craig, Colorado and I know that the plants there have been retrofitted. It is unfortunate that litigation is required for these things and sometimes litigation actually delays the implementation of these things.”
Moffat County resident Sherrie Knez said the effects of the bill will be “devastating” to Northwest Colorado’s economy.
“I feel like we are forgotten most of the time,” she said.
After testifying, Knez said she doubted the PUC would take the testimonies of the Northwest Colorado community into consideration.
“If not, they are pretending pretty well,” she said.