Colorado lawmakers introduce energy bill |

Colorado lawmakers introduce energy bill

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Xcel Energy would have to reduce emissions from its coal-fired power plants, giving priority to replacing them with cleaner gas-powered plants, under bipartisan legislation introduced Monday.

The bill, which will get its first hearing Tuesday, is aimed preventing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from imposing emission rules of its own to bring the Front Range into compliance with federal clean air standards.

By August, Xcel would have to come up with a plan for reducing emissions for at least half of its coal-fired units or 900 megawatts of their capacity, whichever is less, by 2017. The bill also would allow it to consider retrofitting plants with emission controls, using more renewable energy and using power more efficiently.

The measure (House Bill 1365) doesn’t say which plants would be affected but Xcel expects it would develop a plan involving some of its three plants in northern Colorado, which account for a total of about 1,400 megawatts, because that’s the area where the state needs to reduce pollution. A fourth plant, the Arapahoe plant in Denver, is already set to close by 2015 and couldn’t be counted toward the emissions reduction.

Xcel spokesman Tom Henley said the company’s plants in Pueblo and northwest Colorado wouldn’t be affected.

Backers, including both Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and Senate Republican leader Josh Penry, say it will also provide a market for Colorado-produced natural gas and create jobs. The legislation is supported by both the natural gas industry and environmentalists, who have clashed in the past over stricter regulations on gas drilling in the state.

Natural gas is more expensive than coal although its price has moderated recently. To help prevent price spikes, Xcel would be able to sign contracts locking in the price of natural gas for up to 20 years as long as the Public Utilities Commission thinks it’s a good deal. If prices drop, though, rate payers would still be on the hook to pay the higher cost from the contract.

The coal industry, which directly employs about 2,400 people in Colorado, is wary that the bill could lead to layoffs in mines as well as in coal plants, which are more labor intensive than gas plants. Scott Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, said it could also lead to higher electric bills because natural gas costs more than coal.

“I think this bill is a dangerous gamble,” he said.

Bill sponsors Reps. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said it would also create natural gas jobs and pointed out that most of Colorado’s coal is exported to other states.

“I think it’s going to create jobs, good paying jobs,” Roberts said. “It won’t have much impact on coal miners because 70 percent of Colorado coal is shipped out of state. The market for Colorado coal is not going away.”

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. CEO Jim Hackett said any switch to natural gas would have to make sense for consumers to get the approval of state regulators. He said more gas is now being developed onshore within the United States which will keep natural gas affordable and thinks the industry can help Colorado solve its pollution problem.

“Along with renewables, we see ourselves as part of making that happen over time,” he said.

Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Rocky Mountain office, also praised the proposal.

“This is a mile high home run for healthier air and a prosperous clean energy economy for our children and our families,” she said.

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