PUC vote pits coal vs. natural gas industries

The Colorado coal mining industry plans to fight a government-ordered change from coal-fired to natural gas-fired electricity on the Front Range.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is to take a final vote Wednesday on carrying out House Bill 1365, the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, which would boost the use of natural gas in Colorado to reduce emissions and increase employment.

The three-member commission voted unanimously Thursday to convert the Cherokee 4 coal-fired power plant unit to natural gas.

“This was a well-organized, well-orchestrated conspiracy to end coal use,” Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson said. “Obviously, we’ll be looking into additional avenues to pursue legal challenges.”

The Public Utilities Commission vote will pit coal against natural gas and in doing so falls short of its promise to be a Colorado energy and Colorado jobs measure, Sanderson said.

To the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the legislation is a much-needed boost to a natural gas industry in the doldrums, said David Ludlam, the association’s executive director.

“The Front Range needs cleaner air. The West Slope needs more jobs,” Ludlam said. “The PUC’s decision will result in both. As states around the nation look towards greater use of clean, natural gas, western Colorado will play an important role is supplying it.”

Even if that were the case, Sanderson said, there would be no guarantees because the Legislature passed the law without giving it the consideration it deserves. There is nothing that requires the use of Colorado natural gas to fire electricity in the state, so gas could come from anywhere, Sanderson said.

Xcel Energy still has to sign off on the plan after the Public Utilities Commission completes its work.

The commission conducted an impromptu outdoor hearing last summer in downtown Grand Junction on the measure.

There, representatives of western Colorado mines and miners voiced fears that the new law eventually would force them out of work, even though most the coal they produce is used out of state.


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