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Victory Over Coal!

December 14, 2010
Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x1303
In This Release
Climate + Energy  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Victory Over Coal!

Colorado Leads the Way to Clean Energy, but Vigilance Needed to Avoid Perils of Fossil Fuels
Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x1303

WildEarth Guardians’ Statement on the Colorado Public Utilities Commission’s Approval of Clean Air-Clean Jobs Plan

In the next seven years, three coal-fired power plants in the Denver metro area are going to be permanently retired to make way for clean energy.

It’s remarkable progress, and WildEarth Guardians’ legal and political pressure against Xcel Energy helped set the stage and make the case for major change.

Just consider this. In the last two years, we’ve helped draw attention to the toll that Xcel’s coal-fired power plants take on clean air in Colorado. Xcel is the state’s largest utility and operates seven coal-fired power plants in the state. These seven plants are the largest source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in Colorado, as well as the largest source of mercury emissions and smog forming pollution.

Ever since launching our Xcel campaign in early 2009, we’ve filed suit against Xcel over thousands of violations at the Cherokee coal plant in north Denver, we’ve sued to halt illegal toxic air pollution at the company’s Comanche coal plant in Pueblo, Colorado, and we’ve filed challenges with the Environmental Protection Agency to overturn the air pollution permits for Xcel’s Pawnee plant (located in Morgan County), Valmont plant (in Boulder), Cherokee plant, and Hayden plant (in northwestern Colorado).

Our goal has been simple: to force Xcel to take responsibility for the true cost of burning coal in Colorado. Because we all know, that if the true cost of coal was taken into account, clean energy would come out on top as the most affordable solution.

And our strategies have paid off. Earlier this year, the Colorado Legislature passed the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. That law required Xcel to retire at least 900 megawatts of coal-fired electricity. Under the terms of the PUC’s plan implementing this law, which was adopted December 9, the Cherokee and Valmont coal plants, as well as the Arapahoe coal plant in south Denver, will all be retired by 2017. In total, seven coal-fired boilers will be taken offline for a total of more than 1,100 megawatts in coal plant retirement.

But this victory is not the end of it. Although Xcel plans to shutdown its coal-fired power plants, it intends to repower a portion of the Arapahoe and Cherokee plants with natural gas. While cleaner than coal, natural gas is still a fossil fuel that carries tremendous costs. It still releases carbon dioxide and other toxic air pollution when burned. And the production of natural gas takes a tremendous toll on the West’s clean air, wildlife, rivers, and way of life.

It’s touted as a bridge fuel, but we question whether it’s merely a bridge to yet another fossil fuel addiction. Regardless, our future generations are too important to saddle with the dangers of fossil fuels.

Natural gas is an imperfect solution, at best. And it underscores the need for continued vigilance.

That’s why WildEarth Guardians, while applauding the move away from coal, is committed to preventing Xcel’s plans to convert to natural gas from becoming a reality. We intend to use the legal pressure we’ve mounted to keep the Cherokee and Arapahoe power plants fossil fuel-free. We call it the “3 Fs,” and it’s a motto that we intend to put into action.

But we’re not stopping our fight there. While Xcel is shutting down three coal-fired power plants, they’re keeping four open, including a brand new coal-fired boiler at the Comanche plant. Our goal is to power past coal everywhere and while we’ve had a victory, we haven’t succeeded. With renewable solutions like wind and solar at our fingertips, we have every reason to call for the retirement of every last one of Xcel’s coal-fired power plants.

In the coming years, we intend to keep the pressure on Xcel to start meaningfully replacing its coal plants with renewable energy. It’s ambitious, but the reality is we can’t confront global warming, protect people from air pollution, or keep our streams free from mercury unless we shutdown our coal plants.

In the meantime, taking a deep breath will be a little easier in the greater Denver metropolitan area. Shutting down the Arapahoe, Cherokee, and Valmont plants will prove enormously profitable. Studies show that retiring these plants will prevent 24 premature deaths and save more than $79 million every year because of reduced air pollution.

Importantly, these latest plans open the door to clean energy in a way not seen in Colorado. And Colorado can rise to the challenge. With rooftop solar and wind alone, we can not only meet our own energy needs, but also help our neighbors meet theirs. Shutting down the Arapahoe, Cherokee, and Valmont plants emphasizes the need to radically invest in renewable energy.

We know it’s possible. In 2009 alone, Xcel requested proposals for renewable energy projects and received 113 bids for solar and wind energy totaling 15,000 megawatts—twice the company’s peak generating capacity in Colorado.

We can do it. We’ve got the intellectual capital. We’ve got the business. We’ve got the resources. We’ve got the will. We have the creativity and innovation. And now, we’ve got three coal-fired power plants coming off line. The time has never been riper for clean energy to take root.

From our end, we’re going to ensure that this victory in Colorado is followed by more victories throughout the American West. Whether it’s the San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico, the Jim Bridger Power Plant in Wyoming, or the lignite-burning coal plants in North Dakota. With our success in Colorado, we’re taking aim at coal throughout the region.

And we will continue to win. We can’t afford not to.