Game-changing through natural gas, wind, and solar in Colorado
Colorado is moving away from coal toward low-carbon energy. Tom Kenworthy, CAP Senior based in Colorado, has the story.
We’ve written at length about how natural gas can be a low-cost game changer in the battle against climate change. Domestic supplies of the fuel that can power electric plants with half the CO2 emissions of coal are 39% higher than previously thought thanks to big discoveries of shale gas (Part 1). Gas can make it far easier to meet carbon emissions targets established in the House-passed climate and energy bill (Part 2). And emissions limits and a price on carbon would lead the electric power industry to stop building new coal plants and switch to gas, which as a load-following fuel means they can mesh with rising levels of clean generation from wind and solar (Part 3).
Now comes some welcome news from Colorado, where even in the absence of federal climate and clean energy legislation the state and its largest utility Xcel Energy are doing some game changing by planning to retire or retrofit existing coal plants that contribute about 900 megawatts to the state’s power supply. That will mean a 30% reduction in Xcel’s Colorado coal fleet.
In a March 5 announcement, Gov. Bill Ritter unveiled proposed legislation – the Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act — that will by 2017 likely retire at least two coal-fired power plants on the state’s populous Front Range and either retrofit or replace them with natural gas-fired power.
That announcement came just three days before the Colorado legislature took another critical step in moving to a future powered increasingly by clean energy – passing a 30% renewable energy standard by 2020, a 50% increase over the existing RES passed in 2006.
The plan to retire and retrofit some of Xcel Energy’s coal-fired plants, said Ritter, “will keep Colorado at the forefront of America’s energy revolution. It will protect consumers, clean our air and protect public health, and create new jobs by increasing demand for Colorado-produced natural gas.”
Just six years ago, Xcel Energy opposed a state ballot initiative to impose Colorado’s first RES – 10 percent by 2015. Since then Xcel has supported legislation that ratcheted up the RES to 20% and not opposed the most recent increase to 30%. Now the state’s largest utility with 1.1 million residential customers is backing Ritter’s “Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which will require Xcel to submit by Aug. 15 a plan for cutting nitrogen oxide emissions at its coal plants by up to 80 percent to meet current and upcoming federal requirements under the Clean Air Act.
Getting the legislation through the state legislature won’t be a slam dunk, according to one person who helped shape the plan. It will face some opposition from organized labor and legislators from coal-producing areas in western Colorado. But it has the support of many environmental groups and the state’s natural gas industry which now is the 7th largest U.S. producer.