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Energy grid study blames natural gas, not renewables, for coal’s decline

Author: Joey Bunch - August 24, 2017 - Updated: August 31, 2017

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Last weekend subscribers read in Colorado Politics’ Insights column about the threats a federal study of the energy grid, expected to bolster coal, posed for our state, rich in renewable energy programs and natural gas.

The report was released Wednesday night, and as expected it said the grid needs to be fed by reliable coal because killing the market for it threatens the reliability of the power grid.

That part wasn’t surprising from a Trump administration that promised to return coal mining jobs to Colorado to make energy and steel. Trump promised that before the election in Pueblo, a town that knows steel jobs and high energy prices.

The 187-page report, however, said it’s economics killing the coal market. It isn’t regulations or renewables, despite what Republican politicians, allege but cheaper, abundant natural gas. Colorado sits on a huge supply of that.

Insights: Rick Perry’s energy grid study holds shocks for Colorado

The remedy, according to the report: ease up the regulations on coal-fired power plants, even as plants have been replaced across the country by gas-fired plants and broad investments in renewable energy programs.

In 2004 Colorado lawmakers ordered investor-owned utilities to get 30 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, and two Democratic candidates for governor, Jared Polis and Mike Johnston, have vowed to drive toward 100 percent by 2040.

Jim Alexee, the Sierra Club’s Colorado chapter director, told Colorado Politics that the state is getting far more jobs out of renewable energy than it currently gets from mining.

“If politics or corporate special interests make their way into the final report, energy customers here in Colorado may well be left on the hook to prop up expensive coal plants that cannot compete with cleaner, cheaper alternatives,” he said. “We should listen to the scientists, not corporate special interests.”

Perry requested the 60-day study in April, and environmentalists and energy officials alike have been awaiting its delayed release.

The move away from coal to new, cleaner gas-powered electricity generation is cited as a reason for soaring energy prices in Pueblo and other communities in Colorado served by Black Hills Energy.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and President Barack Obama introduced plans and regulations to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, a culprit of climate change. Their policies discouraged investments in coal-fired power plants for the sake of solar and wind projects.

Hundreds of old plants and dozens of nuclear reactors have closed.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.