As elected officials from different parts of the state, we are encouraged by the recent decision by Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission regarding Xcel Energy’s Electric Resource Plan.
Xcel is the state’s largest electric utility, serving 1.3 million Colorado customers. Because electricity generation is Colorado’s second largest carbon-emitter after transportation, this decision will have real and significant consequences for climate action.
The plan the Public Utilities Commission approved on June 22 reflects the major tenets of a settlement between Xcel and interested parties, including the City of Denver. This resource plan ensures that Xcel will be a leader in carbon reduction.
This is great news, and not a moment too soon, because energy costs are hurting Coloradans today, especially those who are economically disadvantaged. Coloradans are increasingly struggling with inflation and rising costs. Renewable energy is ultimately cleaner and less costly than fossil-fuel energy.
On the Front Range, our air quality is often the worst in the country, sometimes the world. With dangerously high nitrous oxide levels, the incidence of asthma here is well above the national average. All over the state we have come to expect wildfires at all times of year, further impacting not just air quality but also the very safety of homes and people in every part of Colorado. Wildly fluctuating temperatures and weather patterns, and faster-than-predicted planetary warming is hurting every industry in our state, from ranching to tourism.
Governor Jared Polis’s electricity sector Carbon Reduction Goals of 2019 — to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 — are our best hope for combatting the crisis, but only if our largest emitters comply. That’s why we’re pleased with this Electric Resource Plan, which accelerates the closure of Colorado’s coal plants, especially Comanche 3 outside Pueblo, and which predicts 85% carbon reduction by the end of 2030, exceeding the governor’s goal.
Based on this plan, Xcel would be the very last utility to burn coal in the state of Colorado no later than January 1, 2031. That puts Colorado just behind 14 other states that will be coal-free by the end of 2030 and means Coloradans literally will be able to breathe easier by the end of this decade.
This decision marks a huge moment, not just for Xcel and Pueblo, but for the state of Colorado in our shared energy transition.
A big highlight of Xcel’s plan is that it supports the transition of Pueblo’s economy by ensuring that Xcel will continue to pay taxes to Pueblo through 2040. Pueblo, a majority Latino community, has borne the brunt of pollution from this coal plant for more than a decade while getting none of the electricity, which instead is exported to other Colorado communities. With the announced closure of Comanche 3, we can begin undoing this environmental racism and take care of the workers and neighborhoods most impacted by the transition.
We would like to acknowledge Xcel’s great work and the community partnerships that culminated in this plan. This victory for our climate and our health really can’t be overstated. Hundreds of our constituents submitted public comments, testified and even protested to make this happen. By retiring Comanche 3 by the first day of 2031 instead of the previously planned 2040 date, Xcel estimates early retirement will cut 1.7 million tons of carbon pollution and save Xcel customers $53 million — $183 million when the social cost of carbon is considered.
But now is not the time to lean back and coast. While it’s exciting that Xcel Energy is moving past coal by the end of this decade, we need to make sure we’re not replacing one dirty fossil fuel with another by building new and expensive gas plants in our communities. With gasoline prices and inflation at unnervingly high levels, there couldn’t be a better time to invest in clean and affordable renewable energy for our communities.
As Xcel and the PUC head into the next phase of energy planning later this year, it’s critical that Xcel avoids building new gas plants and instead focuses on 100% clean energy and efficiency for the sake of our air, climate, and energy affordability.
Our constituents want clean air and climate action. Many are doing their part today to reduce energy usage, and we know more behavior change will also be required to meet our goals.
But Colorado’s energy transition is key, and by working together to do right by the environment, ratepayers, workers, and communities, Xcel’s plan to retire all coal plants can lead the way. We look forward to our state’s largest electricity supplier continuing its leadership on climate by replacing its coal plants with renewable energy, not gas plants, as we move toward a 100% clean energy future.
Vicente Martinez Ortega, of Pueblo, is a member of the Pueblo City Council. Robin Kniech, of Denver, is a member of the Denver City Council. Josh Blanchard, of Silverthorne, is a member of the Summit County Board of County Commissioners.
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