By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
During a legislative session in which Republicans and Democrats have bickered about everything from increasing the state’s renewable energy standard to eliminating tax credits and incentives for business, the two political sides have come together to clean-up coal-fired power plants.
A broad bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, environmentalists and utility companies came together Tuesday to announce the introduction of the Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. The legislation would require Xcel Energy to retire, retrofit or repower northern Front Range coal-fired power plants by the end of 2017, replacing them with facilities fueled by natural gas and other low- or non-emitting energy sources.
House Bill 1365 is sponsored by Reps. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Judy Solano, D-Brighton. It was backed by the House Energy and Transportation Committee Tuesday on a vote of 10-1. The bill now heads to appropriations to address a $74,115 fiscal note for Fiscal Year 2010-11 and $71,313 in Fiscal Year 2011-12. The measure, however, is expected to increase state revenue by $90,572 in FY 2011-12.
Gov. Bill Ritter, speaking at a news conference Tuesday morning to announce the introduction of the bill, spoke to the ability Colorado has to create its own energy and create jobs in the process.
“The Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act will dramatically reduce air pollution and support the growth of homegrown energy, ensuring that cleaner-burning Colorado natural gas works together with renewable energy to keep building our nationally recognized New Energy Economy,” said the governor.
Proponents believe the proposal would serve as a national model for reducing air pollution, while strengthening the economy and increasing the use of cleaner energy sources.
“This is a major step toward clearing up Colorado skies,” said Pam Kiely, legislative director for Environment Colorado. “Air pollution has damaging and costly health impacts, and Coloradans know that clean air is a foundation for healthy communities.”
Many of the coal-fired plants are already reaching the end of their lives, and therefore emit large amounts of pollutants. Six of the Front Range’s eight counties receive failing grades from the American Lung Association because of the high number of days when ozone reaches unhealthy levels. Environmental groups say HB 1365 would reduce emissions such as nitrogen — a key chemical in ozone formation — by up to 80 percent.
Utilities like Xcel signed onto the bill in the face of federal requirements to address regional haze by early next year. Federal legislation requires Colorado to submit a plan to address the pollution by next year or the Environmental Protection Agency would write its own plan for the state. HB 1365 would allow utilities like Xcel to craft their own plans for how to meet new emissions guidelines and mandates.
“We know that the Rocky Mountain region is experiencing issues with regional haze and ozone, and potentially other emissions issues,” said David Eves, president and chief executive of the Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel Energy company. “This legislation establishes a framework to address these air quality issues in a way that ultimately will be the most cost-effective for our customers, and best for the State of Colorado.”
Rep. Roberts called the bill a common-sense solution.
“As a legislator from southwestern Colorado, I’ve had significant experience with the challenging issue of meeting federal air emissions standards while protecting our economy along with environmental and public health concerns,” said Roberts. “This bill presents a proactive and common sense approach to the same challenges now facing the Front Range. It’s only common sense that we better utilize Colorado’s own natural gas reserves to help the state meet the federal regulatory goals for cleaner air.”