Sun may shine brightly on Cameo

Sunshine could begin to usurp coal as a producer of electricity at the Cameo Generating Station in De Beque Canyon, and that could end up being a benefit to both the environment and the area’s economy.

Xcel Energy, which owns the Cameo plant, stirred up a ruckus in 2007 when it announced plans to close Cameo and another small coal-fired plant on the Front Range and replace them with a new natural-gas generating plant as part of its efforts to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. Local lawmakers such as state Sen. Josh Penry objected strenuously, based on the loss of jobs if the plant closed and the impact on the area’s economy. The Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel argued that the closure of the two old-but-efficient plants and the switch to natural gas could prove costly to Xcel’s electric customers.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has approved the closures, which are expected to occur late next year.

Even so, Xcel has announced that it hopes to build an experimental solar-steam electric generation system at Cameo. If approved by the PUC, the project would begin this summer and would cost an estimated $4.5 million.

No one should view the experimental project as a quick fix to replace coal with solar. The existing coal-fired electric plant at Cameo is capable of generating 73 megawatts of electricity. The solar test project would involve only one megawatt. It would be part of Xcel’s statewide Innovative Clean Technology program that would add about 14 cents a month to residential electric bills.

But if the project proves successful, it could lead to a much larger project in the future, an Xcel spokesman said.

We certainly hope the PUC approves the Cameo solar project. First, it’s important as Colorado and the nation seek to move toward a cleaner energy economy to have such test projects. Second, it may help prevent a facility, which has provided jobs and revenue to the local economy for more than half a century, from becoming an empty industrial relic.


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