Another coal plant bites the dust

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.

7 Responses to Another coal plant bites the dust

  1. Sou says:

    This is the sort of news that John Brumby, the Premier of Victoria (Australia) needs to hear. We desperately need to wean ourselves off coal.

  2. Leif says:

    The other day I stumbled upon the “fact”? that there is about 175,000 coal workers in the United States. Coal produces ~50%+/- of the energy of this country. Can anyone give me the carbon foot print of the effort of those 175k folks? You can even round it up to 200k if you like. What I want to see is a comparison to “X” number of third world folks. A rough guess on my part is that it might equal a billion folks but it would be interesting to know with some ball park accuracy.

    [JR: There are about half that many coal miners. Coal “workers” is an ill-defined term, but I suppose that number could be correct depending on the definition.]

  3. Rita Sanford says:

    We need natural gas cars. Save the steps of creating steam, electricity, transmission and charging cars.
    There would be a lot less energy wasted between the gas well and the carbon car tires.

  4. Leif says:

    Thank you Joe. A discussion was going on about how many people would be directly unemployed should coal power be replaced by something sustainable. Admittedly “workers” is nebulous and “miners” would be a better choice. That would double the carbon foot print of their efforts. This discussion was also in conjunction with the value of population control and the importance of “control” of which segment of the population to get the most “bang for the buck” so to speak.

  5. Lou Grinzo says:

    Rita(#3): Natural gas is a bad idea for cars. It reduces the per-mile CO2 emissions only about 20 to 25% over a gasoline or diesel vehicle.

    People talk endlessly about how NG as a vehicle fuel is much cleaner than petroleum, but what’s not said is that they’re counting everything–CO2, CO, fuel fumes, particulate matter, etc. The non-CO2 emissions are certainly important, but locking into NG vehicles is a bad idea, given the meager CO2 savings. We’d be much better off using more advanced, downsized engines and skipping the immense cost of adding a fueling infrastructure.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Natgas requires workers for drilling, production, pilpine laying and maintenence of all that. Some of the coal workers could do that rather than operating massive trucks and running coal trains.

  7. Steve Rankin says:

    Greening Ontario can afford to switch off coal power now (current plans are to switch off all it’s coal plants in 2014). The list includes shutting down the Nantiocoke Generating Station, the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions and pollution anywhere in Canada.

    I live in Chatham-Kent in extreme southwest Ontario. Hundreds of big wind turbines are going up here along Lake Erie and lake St Clair with hundreds more in the planning stages.

    ” Ontario now has a very comfortable surplus of coal-free electricity generation capacity. We can produce 23 per cent more power from coal-free sources than the peak demand for power that we are likely to see over the remainder of 2010. And this surplus is more likely to grow than to contract between now and 2014 – Ontario’s official deadline for ending coal use.”–greening-ontario-can-afford-to-switch-off-coal-power-now