Xcel plan is good for environment, economy

There was a great deal of hand-wringing Monday evening about the effect Xcel Energy’s proposed switch to more natural gas-fired electric generation will have on coal jobs in western Colorado.

That’s understandable. Coal mining and related work offer high-paying, stable jobs that have been a hallmark of this region for many decades. No one should carelessly consider eliminating such jobs.

But when the coal dust settles in this dispute, people should realize that the Xcel plan — developed to comply with state legislation passed with bipartisan support — won’t decimate the digging of coal in this region.

In fact, a study conducted by the University of Colorado on the economic impacts of the Xcel plan said it won’t lead to the loss of one coal job in Colorado. Not one.

We realize some folks won’t believe that conclusion. But the skeptics should also consider these facts:

Xcel doesn’t buy any coal from the North Fork Valley in Delta and Gunnison counties. It does use coal from Moffat and Routt counties, but the plants which burn most of that coal, near Craig and Hayden, will continue to burn coal. The Hayden plant will be retrofitted with new pollution-control technology.

The big change will come at plants in the Denver area, which will be converted from coal to natural gas generation. But those plants use coal that comes almost exclusively from Wyoming, not Colorado. About 8 percent comes from Colorado mines.

It’s true, as critics of the Xcel plan say, that there won’t be a huge increase in demand for natural gas or in gas-industry jobs as a direct result of the plan. In fact, Xcel officials say it will gradually bring the utility’s natural gas requirements only back up to what they were a few years ago. Those requirements dropped in large part because the company has added a large new coal-fired generator to its Comanche plant near Pueblo. Increased use of wind generation is also a factor.

Furthermore, Xcel says it is committed to researching clean-coal technologies as it plans for increased generation for the future.

In the meantime, the Xcel plan will substantially reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and other pollutants in the Denver area over the next decade. If those pollutants aren’t cut, federal authorities will impose their own plan to force reductions, and Coloradans aren’t likely to be pleased with any such plan mandated by Washington bureaucrats.

Xcel estimates its plan will cost electric consumers in Colorado about 1 percent more a year in electric bills over the next 10 years. Not exactly the budget-busting increases some critics predicted.

With some 40 groups and individuals involved in the PUC process for examining and approving Xcel’s plan, there is a good chance that some parts of it will be modified, at least slightly.

But we believe it is a sound plan overall, one that is good for Colorado’s economy and its environment, but is not an attack on this state’s coal industry.


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