Coal conundrum

Adopting a public policy measure that significantly increases the demand for natural gas produced in Colorado is a prudent thing to do for lawmakers who want to boost the economic fortunes of this state.

But encouraging the development of new jobs in the natural gas industry at the expense of coal-mining and related jobs that already exist in Colorado would be counterproductive.

We don’t believe that will be the case with House Bill 1365 despite the fears expressed by some lawmakers when the measure was approved by the House Monday.

The information we base our arguments on comes courtesy of Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, a cosponsor of the bill and one of a number of Republicans who support the measure.

The bill will authorize Xcel Energy to convert three aging Front Range power plants from coal to natural gas, thus increasing demand for natural gas in this state an estimated 15 percent. Increasing demand will raise prices and stimulated more drilling, particularly in this part of the state.

The three power plants in question currently generate about 900 megawatts of electricity. However, roughly 50 percent of the coal to fuel those plants comes from Wyoming, not Colorado.

Furthermore, at approximately the same time these coal plants are to be taken out of service, the new coal-fired, 750 megawatt Comanche Power Plant near Pueblo is to go on line. So the net impact on Colorado-produced coal is expected to be minimal.

Additionally, because Colorado’s coal is some of the most clean-burning coal produced in this nation, it is in demand for power plants all across the country.

More than half of it is already exported from this state, and demand for it is expected to remain high.

Beyond that, as Penry noted, “This isn’t really about coal, per se. It’s more about the technology of these plants,” all of which are 30-plus years old or older, and all of which have pollution problems.

And, because of Environmental Protection Agency rules dating to the early years of the President George W.  Bush’s administration, major changes are needed to clean up pollutants such as nitrous oxide on the Front Range. If the state fails to act, federal authorities will likely impose new clean air requirements for the region that could be far more devastating to Colorado’s economy.

Adopting a state plan to clean up much of that pollution in a manner that encourages the use of one important resource in this state — natural gas — without seriously diminishing the use of another resource — coal, makes far more sense than waiting for a top-down edict from federal authorities.

That’s why HB 1365 has support from so many different people — from Western Slope people like Republicans Penry and Grand Junction state Reps. Steve King and Laura Bradford, to Gov. Bill Ritter to Xcel executives. And that’s why The Daily Sentinel also supports it.


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