Pueblo, CO

Environmentalists say close Pueblo coal power plant now. Xcel wants to wait until 2034

Matt Whittaker

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Demonstrators walk from Xcel's Denver headquarters toward Coors Field on Friday.Matt Whittaker/NewsBreak Denver

By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Next week, Colorado energy regulators will resume considering Xcel Energy's plans to shut down a troubled coal-fired power plant in Pueblo.

On Monday, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will deliberate whether to accept the company's planned 2034 shutdown date for its Comanche Unit 3 generating station. The company contends it needs more than a decade to bring less-polluting generation online. But opponents worried about local pollution and broader environmental damage want Xcel to shut the plant down sooner.

On Friday, environmental and community groups gathered in front of Xcel's downtown Denver headquarters to call for the plant's closure.

"The PUC should tell them to shut it down straight away," Velma Campbell, a 74-year-old Pueblo resident and member of Mothers Out Front, said in a speech. "We don’t need that air pollution."

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Velma Campbell, a 74-year-old Pueblo resident, uses a megaphone outside Xcel's Denver headquarters on Friday.Matt Whittaker/NewsBreak Denver

Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said the plant is an essential asset as the company brings on more renewable resources. 

Under a plan put forward by the company and agreed to by parties including the cities of Denver, Boulder and Pueblo, the plant would begin running under reduced operations in 2025 and be retired in 2034, earlier than initially proposed, Aguayo said. Overall, that agreement would reduce carbon emissions in the state by 87% from 2005 levels by 2030.

She said that it would also give employees time to transfer or complete retraining and for the company and communities to find ways to deal with tax impacts and other economic concerns.

"This timeline gives the industry the time it needs to develop new, zero-carbon dispatchable resources that are available 24/7 in all weather conditions," Aguayo said. "Reliability, affordability and a just transition are all critical considerations in this clean-energy transition."

But Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental group that filed a revised position statement with the commission on Wednesday, wants the regulators to require Xcel to analyze a potential 2029 shuttering, saying that date would save ratepayers money.

"Reducing operations immediately and retiring Comanche 3 before 2030 will reduce emissions and reduce system costs," the group said.

In March 2021, the commission released the results of an investigation into Comanche 3's operations. It cited poor maintenance practices and equipment defects and said the plant had an average of 91.5 down days each year from when it started commercial operations in 2010 through the end of 2020. Only 27 percent of those outages were planned.

According to Environmental Protection Agency data, the plant – including Units 1 and 2 – is one of Colorado's biggest polluters, releasing 4.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020. In recent years, it topped the list, releasing 9.3 million metric tons in 2018, but shutdowns have lowered its emissions.

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Matt Whittaker writes about natural resources industries, including oil and gas, mining, renewable energy, agriculture and cannabis. He's been based in the Denver metro area since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @mattswhittaker.

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