by Pam Zubeck
Dave Grossman with Springs Utilities had a lot to say about efforts to move away from coal.
We don't see the challenge as coal. We see the challenge as emissions. That's why we are pursuing technologies that reduce emissions generated by coal-fired generation of electricity.
We are working on several projects that will improve air quality. These initiatives are designed to solve environmental and regulatory challenges at the lowest cost possible for our customers.
We will begin to install emissions control equipment at our power plants in 2011 and 2012. The equipment is based on new technology developed by a local company and has proven to remove more than 90 percent of sulfur dioxide and mercury from power plant exhaust. The technology shows potential to also remove nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide.
We are diversifying our electric generation portfolio by acquiring the natural gas-fired Front Range Power Plant and helping customers pay for solar photo voltaics for their homes and businesses. Additionally, we plan to begin operating a woody biomass renewable energy facility, which will reduce the amount of coal needed for our community beginning in 2012.
Like the state, our intent is to do the right thing for the environment and our customers. That's why we're pursuing a community conversation (followed by implementation) of an Energy Vision for Colorado Springs. We intend to get our citizen-owners and business customers input on our draft vision, which includes accomplishing three things by 2020:
1. 20% renewable energy
2. 20% electric rates advantage compared to regional utilities
3. 10% reduction in per-customer electric usage
Meanwhile, HeadwatersNews reports that Colorado gave the go-ahead to Xcel Energy to shut down six coal-fired power units along the Front Range, and replace their generation capabilities with a new $530-million natural-gas fired plant.
(Initial version filed at 9:35 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7)
Environment Colorado is touting the Public Utilities Commission's consideration of a plan to replace inefficient and "dirty coal-fired power generation" with cleaner energy under the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act passed last spring.
"The merits of the case speak for themselves," Pam Kiely, program director of Environment Colorado, said in a release. "Fully retiring these old, inefficient, facilities is the most cost-effective option and the one that best protects our children and families from the health impacts of air pollution. It is absolutely critical that the big questions aren't punted, and Coloradans know with certainty that the most dirty, dangerous power on our system will be permanently replaced. Clean Air, Clean Jobs was widely supported by a diverse group of energy companies, legislators from both political parties, public health advocates, local governments and conservation groups."
But not everyone cottons to the rush to renewables. Springs City Councilman Sean Paige, who never minces words, had this to say:
"The bill you mention really isn’t about facilitating a statewide switch to natural gas; it’s a sweetheart deal allowing one major player (Xcel) to do what it wants to do anyway, by switching over some older plants, sticking it to the ratepayers along the way. The natural gas lobby and natural gas-friendly legislators love it for obvious reasons. The PUC helped draft the bill because it’s in the grip of green-leaning social engineers, like Chairman Ron Binz, who want a California-style energy policy in Colorado. Natural gas seems like a good bet right now, because it’s cleaner-burning than coal and prices are relatively depressed due to the economic downturn. But as the fad for gas grows, and as the world economy rebounds, demand will likely skyrocket, driving prices much higher."
Paige also says coal, while "unfashionable" in some circles, remains the "reliable and affordable workhorse" of power production and will for decades to come. The city's investment in scrubbing technology (physicist Dave Neumann's invention) could provide a "major breakthrough," he says, not just for the city but for the world.
Meantime, Paige says the city is working to diversify.
"We’re on target to meet or exceed state renewable portfolio mandates. We’re investing heavily in a woody biomass project. And we’re in the process of buying a full share in a gas-fired facility, Front Range Power. But we're not being reckless or unrealistic about our pursuit of altrenatives. What works for Xcel isn’t what makes sense for CSU. I’m glad we still have some latitude to make our own decisions, driven not by the social engineers at the PUC, or by statehouse lobbyists, but by the interests of our ratepayers. And using reliable and affordable cleaner coal makes sense for our ratepayers at the moment."