Xcel’s plan is sound

President Donald Trump campaigned on putting coal miners back to work, but the nation’s biggest consumer of domestic coal — electrical utilities — keeps reducing its reliance on coal for power generation.

The president wants his “energy dominance” agenda to revitalize the coal industry, but utilities like Xcel, the state’s largest, are basing a business decision to step away from coal on market forces.

As they should. It’s been the historic Republican position to let the free market dictate economic outcomes for the benefit of the consumer. But when Xcel energy unveiled a money-saving plan to invest $2.5 billion in clean energy and shutter a couple of coal-fired power plants a decade ahead of schedule, it didn’t take long for a prominent GOP lawmaker to cry foul.

Xcel appears to be doing the smart thing here, taking advantage of tax credits to transition to a greener energy portfolio that its customers say they want anyway — without charging them more for it.

Utilizing the federal Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit before it’s phased out by 2020 will allow Xcel to seek bids to develop new energy sources from low-cost wind, solar and natural gas projects. Some of these projects may be built in rural Colorado, creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

The declining cost of renewables, along with improved technology and performance, means Xcel can produce electricity more cheaply from renewables than continuing to operate two coal-fired units. The plan Xcel submitted to the Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday would only go forward if it doesn’t raise ratepayer costs, but the hope is that it actually lowers them.

“The proposal could increase renewable energy to 55 percent by 2026, save customers money and dramatically reduce carbon and other emissions,” said David Eves, president of Xcel Energy Colorado.

As good as that sounds, Xcel’s proposal drew a sharp rebuke from state Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who characterized it as an end-run around the Legislature.

“This proposal didn’t fly at the statehouse because Republicans don’t believe it’s in the interest of Colorado energy consumers to shut down our most affordable and dependable power plants, while subsidizing over-expansion of unreliable, not-ready-for-primetime alternatives,” he said in a statement released Wednesday.

If Sonnenberg has a problem with the subsidization of energy sources, he conveniently overlooked coal as a prime beneficiary.

As Luke Danielson, president of Sustainable Development Strategies Group in Gunnison, noted in a recent op-ed, “coal mining has been built on public subsidies.” A 2015 International Monetary Fund study concluded that energy subsidies worldwide overwhelmingly go to fossil fuels. “Coal is the most highly subsidized of all,” Danielson wrote. “Worldwide, coal subsidies are about 4 percent of the entire economic output of the human race.”

If Xcel can provide cleaner energy without increasing customer costs and generate additional economic activity in rural Colorado in the process, we’re all for it. It makes too much sense to be derailed by the contortions that arise from politicizing coal production.


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