By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Environmentalists Wednesday called on state leaders to “stop clowning around on climate change” and commit to replacing existing coal-fired plants with clean energy.
Gathered at the Capitol dressed in clown outfits with Gov. Bill Ritter face masks and red noses, WildEarth Guardians called upon Ritter to replace Xcel Energy’s Cherokee coal-fired plant in north Denver with clean energy. The group says Ritter can take a stand by revoking state air quality permits issued to Xcel.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will hold a hearing tonight at 6 p.m. to evaluate Xcel’s compliance with emission regulations.
“It’s time to power past coal in Colorado — that starts with the Cherokee coal-fired power plant in north Denver,” said Jeremy Nichols, director of WildEarth Guardians. “If we are to make any significant reduction in greenhouse gases and confront global warming, we need to start replacing coal with clean energy.”
Nichols filed a lawsuit against Xcel back in August, citing 22,000 violations of the Clean Air Act at the Cherokee plant.
But Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said the utility is in compliance with emission regulations 99.97 percent of the time at Cherokee. He said federal and state regulations take into account the fact that it is impossible for a utility to be in compliance all the time. Over the course of five years, as many as 1.8 million emission measurements can be taken. In that time, it is possible for monitoring equipment to be down, though that equipment is up close to 99 percent of the time, said Stutz. But the violations cited by WildEarth don’t take into account the leeway provided by state and federal regulators, or the fact that monitoring equipment is occasionally down, he said.
“It’s not a reasonable expectation to think that a plant is going to be in compliance 100 percent of the time,” said Stutz. “There has to be some enforcement leeway.”
WildEarth says the Cherokee plant is the “largest and dirtiest” coal-fired plant in the Denver area. The plant includes four boilers, which burn more than 2 million pounds of coal annually, the group said. It also has three smokestacks that spew 162 pounds of mercury, environmentalists said.
Stutz defended the plant, however, arguing that Xcel is always installing the latest emission controls at its plants, which is reducing sulfur, mercury and carbon emissions, to name a few. He said what environmental groups often forget is that alternative energy sources can supplement energy production — but it can’t completely replace it.
“The problem that these groups never consider is the here and now in reliability,” said Stutz. “It is one thing to say, ‘Let’s go to an all-renewable environment with wind and solar,’ and some people would consider hydro. It’s another thing for all of those renewable resources to actually work on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week — it simply doesn’t happen.”
The governor’s office also defended itself Wednesday, calling it odd that environmentalists would target Ritter considering his dedication to environmental issues. Ritter made national headlines in 2008 when he enacted major pieces of his Climate Action Plan, including an executive order establishing a goal of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions statewide by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The ambitious order has been used as a template and rallying call for environmentalists and lawmakers across the nation.
“This was a rather ridiculous publicity stunt on their part,” Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said of WildEarth’s rally Wednesday. “Bill Ritter has been named the greenest governor in America and is becoming a national leader for his work on clean energy and climate change. He issued the state’s first Climate Action Plan, set out strategies to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent and is building a New Energy Economy that is creating a sustainable energy future for Colorado.”
Dreyer adds that over the past three years, the state has nearly quadrupled the amount of clean wind power generated in Colorado. It has also increased by 10 times the amount of installed solar photovoltaic in Colorado, he said. Just Wednesday, Ritter’s office announced that the subsidiary of a German-based wind power company, SGB USA, Inc., is moving to Wheat Ridge where it will make transformers that convert electricity generated by wind turbines into energy for the power grid. And last month, German-based SMA Solar Technology announced that it will open its first solar inverter manufacturing facility outside of Germany in Denver next year.
But WildEarth says Ritter’s efforts in expanding the New Energy Economy and lowering greenhouse emissions will be totally lost if he doesn’t do more to crack down on utilities like Xcel, which they say are polluting through the use of coal-fired plants. The group believes pollution will only continue to rise.
In fact, a report released Wednesday by Environment Colorado states that Colorado ranks fifth in the nation for increase of global warming pollution since 1990. The state experienced some of the fastest emissions growth of any state in the nation, according to the report. “We need electricity, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of our health, our quality of life and the climate,” said Nichols. “It’s time for our governor to be the leader Coloradans deserve, to power past coal, starting with the Cherokee power plant — it’s time to get clean energy solutions in gear.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters