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Addressing climate change in Colorado relies on Xcel

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

In 2018, Governor Polis signed his Climate Action “Roadmap,” setting targets for cutting the state’s global warming emissions by 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Of course, the law contained no enforcement mechanisms. In 2021, frustrated at the Polis Administration’s lack of measurable progress, and with pressure from 350 Colorado and its allies, the legislature passed House Bill 1266.

HB-1266 requires 80% emissions cuts from power plants by 2030 and 60% cuts from the oil and gas sector. It also created a first-ever office of environmental justice, requiring that the Department of Public Health and Environment consult with those most impacted by pollution — disproportionately lower-income, Latino and Black. 

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HB-1266 made Colorado one of the country’s first states to mandate reductions in carbon dioxide. And progress is progress. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough. 

In 2020, Evolved Energy, GridLab, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club issued a 131-page report showing that to meet its climate targets, 98% of Colorado’s electricity had to come from renewables like solar and wind by 2030. 

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This is, of course, because power plants are such large polluters. It’s also due to the lag time in greening our transportation and building sectors. Short of Elon Musk giving every American a Tesla (which he could probably afford to do), it is going to be years before most cars and trucks are electric. Replacing gas boilers with heat pumps will take time and money. The longer coal and gas make up our energy mix, our electric appliances and electric cars will still be powered with carbon. 

The good news is that solar and wind are much cheaper than fossil fuels. Once the solar panels and wind turbines are up, the energy is nearly free. Electricity from solar and wind eliminates the need for fracked gas (let’s stop calling it “natural” gas).

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Two weeks ago, the Public Utilities Commission told Xcel Energy to consider closing its newest “Comanche Unit 3” coal plant in Pueblo by 2029, five years earlier than Xcel planned. Xcel is the state’s largest electric utility and Unit 3 is the state’s largest source of CO2. Xcel had reached a settlement with the Colorado Energy Office and the cities of Denver, Boulder and Pueblo to run Unit 3 until 2034 and build new gas-fired generating stations to replace the coal power. 

Unit 3 has had operational failures 25% of the time since coming online in 2011. The surrounding neighborhoods in Pueblo suffer higher rates of asthma, heart disease and cancer. Xcel wants to leave customers on the hook for $658 million for its faulty coal plant. 

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We need to support the PUC and demand the earliest possible closure of Unit 3. We should demand that Xcel build more solar and wind, not new gas-fired plants, which require fracking. We should demand that Xcel’s investors absorb the costs of retiring Unit 3.

Please write the CEO of Xcel, the PUC and Governor Polis (separately or carbon-copied, addresses are below) and call for a 2029 closure of Unit 3 or earlier and protection from rate hikes. Make clear that the fastest, cheapest, likeliest way for Colorado to reach its emissions reduction goals is to switch the utility sector to 98% renewables by 2030. Tweet, post to Facebook and Instagram and email your friends about it. Write a letter to the editor. 

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And for those Holy Cross customers, your voice is just as meaningful. Holy Cross buys power from Xcel and OWNS 8% of Xcel’s Unit 3 plant!

Alice Jackson, CEO Xcel Energy: alice.jackson@xcelenergy.com

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Public Utilities Commission: dora_puc_website@state.co.us

Governor Jared Polis: Governorpolis@state.co.us

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Tags: #350 Roaring Fork #climate #Climate Action #Jared Polis #Will Hodges
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