Opinion

WEBB: When opportunity knocks, open the door

Author: Wellington Webb - November 24, 2017 - Updated: November 24, 2017

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Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb
Wellington Webb

If there is anything I have learned from my collective experiences in Denver and across Colorado, it is to answer the door when opportunity knocks because you never know when — or if — it will knock again.

This may seem to be an oversimplified way to look at a new opportunity but it’s not —  particularly one that has the potential to bring billions of dollars of local investment, new jobs, generate more Colorado-made energy, and keep electricity costs low for consumers.

There are questions to be answered, but this is an opportunity that should be seriously considered.

The opportunity comes from Xcel Energy, which, in conjunction with a diverse set of business, consumer and generation interests, filed a stipulation with the Public Utilities Commission to allow it and this coalition to develop the Colorado Energy Plan. This would likely result in the closure of two coal-fired generation plants in Pueblo in favor of cheaper, cleaner resources like wind, solar and natural gas. The plan will bring diverse interests together to determine the future of our changing energy system.

I am all for examining new energy resources as long as we don’t abandon existing ones without identifying ways to train and transition energy-related jobs so that our rural energy employees and other workers are not left behind. We also cannot burden local economies, whose budgets are already stretched, with increased energy costs.

Coloradans continue to overwhelmingly support renewable energy and we have seen the cost of solar and wind energy generation decrease consistently to where it is now cheaper to build than other forms of energy. When we add cleaner energy to our generation sources, we also clean our air. Too often communities of color are likely to live in close proximity to older, dirtier power plants. Air pollution from aging coal-fired power plants causes life-threatening illnesses, like childhood asthma and other diseases. Transitioning away from these resources will serve to improve and yes, even save Coloradans’ lives.

Additionally, the group will first study what transitioning these plants to cleaner, more cost-effective electricity production could look like in Colorado, the rural jobs that can be created, and how much money consumers can save. Not how much it will cost — but how much it will save! Families in Denver and across Colorado need cheap energy to power their daily lives, and this plan could do just that.

I welcome any plan that has the buy-in of the energy industry, clean-air advocates and consumers (groups that don’t always see eye-to-eye) that will help create real economic growth in both rural and urban communities across Colorado.

For example, the wind energy development around Sterling, Lamar and other areas in recent years has brought billions of dollars of new investments and created thousands of quality jobs in and around those communities. These are rural communities that have done a good job of diversifying their economies from primarily an agricultural focus to ones that include energy development of many types.

I do believe that the cornerstone of this plan is its directive to save consumers money. In order to be adopted, this plan must ensure that consumer costs stay the same or go down. It is no secret that across the country, including right here in Colorado, wind and solar generation costs are at all-time lows, and now is the time for generation facilities and consumers to take advantage of these low-cost resources to ensure our electricity rates stay low for decades into the future.

If we can bring more wind and solar online to lower our costs here in Colorado, and not vilify the existing oil and gas community, all while saving consumers money and creating more quality, skilled jobs across our state to diversify our economic opportunities for this generation and the next, then this is an effort I can support — and an opportunity I will open the door for anytime.

Wellington Webb

Wellington Webb

Wellington Webb served three terms as mayor of Denver, 1991-2003. He is a past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Conference of Black Mayors. Webb is a long-time Democratic Party activist.