Energy bill would convert coal plants to natural gas, create state jobs

Sen. Josh Penry will be a main sponsor to a bill he hopes will boost Western Slope jobs.

The measure, to be detailed in a press conference led by Gov. Bill Ritter later today, is designed to help clear the air around the Denver metropolitan area and boost jobs elsewhere in the state.

The bill, to be co-sponsored in the Colorado Senate by Penry and Sen. Bruce Whitehead, D-Hesperus, would call on Xcel Energy to convert its Front Range coal-fired power plants to burn natural gas.

Penry called it a “game-changer” not only for natural gas production on the Western Slope, but for air quality on the Front Range.

“I have been in meetings with the governor and legislative leadership over the weekend to refine this natural gas measure,” Penry said. “They’re going to convert about 900 megawatts of coal-fired power production in aging plants in the Denver area to natural gas. It is a tough issue in part being driven by major haze issues, but for natural gas and for the industry and all the jobs, it increases natural gas production in the state by about 15 percent, so it’s a big deal.”

Penry said he was able to get the measure, which is to be introduced later this week, to focus more on jobs than on carbon reduction, saying that should be its real focus.

The measure, which Ritter announced earlier this month, would require Xcel to retire, retrofit and repower several smaller coal plants and begin burning Colorado-produced natural gas by 2017. Officials for Xcel, which serves about 1.1 million residential customers in the state, have come out in support of the measure.

Several House members jointly will sponsor the bipartisan bill, including Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.


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