Xcel plan to close coal-fired units and expand renewables upsets Republicans

Author: Peter Marcus - August 30, 2017 - Updated: September 11, 2017

renewablePonnequin Wind Farm near Carr, Colo. (Ed Andrieski/AP)

State Republicans are concerned with a plan floated by Xcel Energy on Tuesday that would retire two coal-fired generation units in Pueblo, while adding renewable energy.

Xcel filed a request supported by 14 groups asking the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to approve a plan that would lead to $2.5 billion in clean energy investments in rural Colorado, according to a news release announcing the proposal.

The so-called “Colorado Energy Plan” would promote a “widely supported electricity generating portfolio” to augment Xcel’s current plans.

The utility promised not to increase the cost of energy to its customers. In the last four years, the average electric bill for Xcel Energy’s Colorado residential customers decreased by 6 percent. The proposal would keep Colorado electricity costs for consumers “low and predictable,” Xcel said in the news release.

Xcel plans a request for proposal targeting a mix of utility and independent power producers, with the utility having a targeted investment of 50 percent of the renewable generation.

Portfolio estimates are up to 1,000 megawatts of wind, up to 700 megawatts of solar, and up to 700 megawatts of natural gas.

The utility would file a recommended portfolio with the Public Utilities Commission in the first quarter of 2018; a final decision on the recommended portfolio is expected in the summer of 2018.

“We have a responsibility to meet our customers’ energy needs. Our customers expect us to provide low-cost power and increase the use of cleaner energy,” said David Eves, president of Xcel Energy in Colorado. “As the state’s largest utility, it is important to us that we also support rural areas in Colorado, and this proposal’s investment will accomplish this goal.”

Eves said the proposal could increase renewable energy to 55 percent by 2026, while saving customers money and reducing pollution. Carbon emission could be reduced by up to 60 percent by 2026 over 2005 levels, Xcel said.

Xcel’s contribution of renewables currently stands at around 29 percent.

Colorado has a renewable energy standard of 30 percent by 2020, which Xcel has repeatedly said it is on track to surpass. At least two Democratic gubernatorial candidates have proposed a 100 percent renewable energy standard of 100 percent by 2040.

The two coal-fired generation units that would be retired are located at the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, reminded Xcel that Republicans rejected a similar proposal in the legislature.

“Renewable energy providers in Colorado already profit from a wide variety of special preferences and handouts, including some of the highest renewable energy mandates in the country, but apparently that’s not enough for one utility, which is pulling a bit of a fast one by going to the PUC for something it couldn’t get passed through the legislature last session,” Sonnenberg said in a statement.

“This proposal didn’t fly at the statehouse because Republicans don’t believe it’s in the interest of Colorado energy consumers to shut down our most affordable and dependable power plants, while subsidizing expansion of unreliable, not-ready-for-primetime alternatives. We keep hearing that renewable energy has finally come of age and can compete with traditional power providers on a level playing field, yet when push comes to shove, they’re always coming back for more handouts and special preferences, which come at ratepayer or taxpayer expense.”

Xcel was joined by a diverse coalition in announcing the proposal, including pro-renewable energy groups.

“Today’s filing starts a conversation about how Colorado will transition to the clean energy economy of tomorrow,” said Erin Overturf, chief energy counsel for Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based conservation group dedicated to clean energy.

Supporters called the proposal an “historic opportunity to take advantage of renewable-generated electricity… at historically low prices, while investing in good-paying jobs and cleaner air.”

“If approved, the commission will have an opportunity to evaluate transitioning our power production away from coal and toward less expensive clean renewable resources,” Overturf said. “Taking advantage of these low cost options now would reduce customers’ bills, while improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas pollution that causes climate change.”

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus is senior statehouse reporter for Colorado Politics. He covers the legislature and previously covered politics, the governor’s office, the legislature and Congress for The Durango Herald. He joined The Herald in 2014 from The Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters.