State commission hears from public on future of power plants
Commissioners from the state of Colorado’s Public Utilities gathered at the Moffat County High School Library Tuesday afternoon to hear public comments regarding Phase One of Public Service Company of Colorado’s (PSCo) Electric Resource Plan (ERP) and Clean Energy Plan (CEP).
Chairman of the PUC Eric Blank said yesterday’s proceedings were intended to only hear from community members about their concerns and questions about plans, not necessarily make decisions at Tuesday’s proceedings based on those comments. Blank said the commissioners there were acting more as judges hearing testimony during a court proceeding.
“We’re here to listen to you, and make sure your comments are reflected in the record,” he said.
Under PUC rules, Xcel Energy has filed resource plans before, but this is the first time that the filing also contains a clean energy plan, Blank said. This component sets forth what Xcel Energy proposes to do: reduce Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 80% by 2030, as mandated by state statute.
“In this proceeding, the PUC is examining Xcel Energy’s plans to ensure they provide reliable service at just and reasonable rates while lowering CO2 emissions consistent with state statute,” Blank said. “As part of its plan, Xcel Energy is proposing to retire two coal-fired power plants, convert a third to natural gas and reduce operations at a fourth.”
Blank also said that Xcel also proposes to add “significant amounts” of other types of energy production, such as utility-scale solar power and battery storage.
Chris Nichols, city councilman for the city of Craig, was first to give public comment at the hearing. Nichols said there was a lack of communication from Tri-State regarding what the plant plans on doing with their facilities after the inevitable closures within the next few years. Nichols cited Hayden’s coal-fired plants’ potential plans to explore molten salt and hydrogen during his testimony, saying that those renewable energy sources could be options for Craig plants.
“At this point, we just hear that facilities are closing. We get dates, and we keep seeing the dates are moving forward,” Nichols said. “As a community, and to plan budgets, we need to have more information. But specifically, I’ve asked for information about the financial impact. If it is the end of 2025, so on Jan. 1 of 2026, when we depower (Craig) Unit 1, does that mean that asset is worth $0?”
Specifically, Nichols said he has requested information about what this means for local taxing districts. With much of the county’s tax base reliant on taxes generated from the plants, taxing districts like the school district, the rural fire district and others could face drastic cuts if city and county officials can’t budget quickly enough. Nichols said that the county assessor can estimate a ballpark range, but currently, there’s no specific number as to what losses the county will face after Craig Unit 1’s closure.
Tim Redmond, a county commissioner in Routt County and former mayor of Hayden, echoed Nichols’s concerns for Routt County’s special taxing districts. Redmond said West Routt Fire was going to take a 52% hit after closures, and the school district would also face cuts upwards of 50%. The library and cemetery districts were likely to take large hits, as well.
“All the special districts were going to take a huge hit. These are pillar institutions — our school district, West Routt Fire,” Redmond said. “If there’s a fire or if a loved one is sick or injured, you should be able to make a phone call, and they should have the funds and resources to come and protect their community.”
Redmond said he was in full support of Hayden’s potential plans for molten salt production. He added that Xcel sat down with county officials to speak about their intentions to transition assets in Hayden toward renewable options. With a number of students in Moffat and Routt counties coming right out of high school with high-paying jobs at the plants or coal mines, Redmond said there need to be options for those families who have established lifestyles and mortgages based on those wages.
“Molten salt storage is going to be, in my mind, a good start,” Redmond said.
Among the emails Redmond has received in the days before the hearing, he said he received numerous positive emails about the plants’ options of moving toward renewable energy and only one negative email.
Doug Monger, a former Routt County commissioner and a rancher that lives near the Hayden plant, spoke on behalf of Club 20, a coalition of individuals, businesses, tribes and local governments in Colorado’s 22 western counties, in support of Xcel’s Clean Energy Plan.
“We are particularly excited about the emerging clean energy industry replacing the coal energy industry and the potential to maintain jobs in our areas,” Monger said.
Monger said that Club 20 encourages the PUC to approve Xcel’s proposals. He said it represents a “win-win for the Western Slope and state economies.”
Despite the subject of the hearing — which normally is a controversial and sensitive subject for communities in the Yampa Valley that rely on jobs at the power plants — civil engagement remained low. Only three people spoke within the first half of the meeting’s allotted two hours, and one person deferred to submit her comments online. At least one other Craig resident spoke in the latter half of the meeting. One PUC commissioner estimated that their meeting in Pueblo in the coming weeks will be one of their busiest hearings.
Right now, coal-powered plants in both Hayden and Craig are set to close by the end of the decade. According to Blank’s presentation at the beginning of the listening session, Xcel Energy is proposing to retire Hayden 1 plant in 2027 and Hayden 2 in 2028. Craig 1 is planned to close by 2025, Craig 2 by 2028, and Craig 3, which is owned by Tri-State, will close by 2030.
“We as commissioners certainly do not have all the answers, which is why we’re hearing directly from you today is so critical to us,” Blank said.
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