Counties want impact considered in implementing Xcel energy plan

Several northwest Colorado counties and a lobbying group for the region are asking regulators to consider local economic impacts in implementing new state clean-air legislation expected to cut Xcel Energy’s consumption of coal.

Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties and the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado are petitioning the Air Quality Control Commission out of concern about potential repercussions for coal mines in northwest Colorado.

Garfield County commissioners this week didn’t consider co-petitioning, but endorsed the concept that local impacts should be considered and the public should be provided sufficient opportunity to comment.

The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado also is intervening in a state Public Utilities Commission process involving the bill, said its executive director, Aron Diaz.

Diaz told Garfield commissioners his group is asking for a dialogue regarding legislation that could have implications for many hundreds of coal jobs at the Colowyo and Trapper mines in Moffat County and the Twentymile Mine in Routt County. The coal industry wasn’t invited to participate when the bill was crafted, he said.

In an interview, Diaz said the bill has tended to pit northwest Colorado against itself because it is expected to boost the local natural gas industry while hurting coal.

But Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt, also a member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said the bill was a response to a need by the Front Range to do something about its air-quality problems. She called it a “knee-jerk reaction” to suggest it would cost a lot of Colorado coal mining jobs, noting there is a market for coal across the country.

She added, “It might push the coal industry to get their technicians together and figure out how to make it a clean-burner.”

Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said fitting coal-fired power plants with additional emission controls will be looked at as one approach to complying with the goals. It also will look equally at retiring some coal-fired plants and converting some to burn natural gas, he said.

Stutz said the focus is on coal plants on the Front Range, but there may be some discussion involving plants in Hayden and Craig. Stutz said at least 35 parties have intervened in Xcel’s PUC case, and it’s his impression the views of northwest Colorado and the Colorado Mining Association “will be more than well represented, at least in the Public Utilities Commission process.” Xcel’s coal generally comes from northwest Colorado and Wyoming.


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