It was a battle of green versus black and blue.
Self-described “green hippies” and blue-collared coal miners competed yesterday for the public’s attention. Two separate rallies were held around a public hearing by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on a proposed plan by Xcel Energy to retire, retrofit or repower six coal-burning power plants.
Xcel has proposed a 12-year, $1.3 billion plan to comply with the so-called Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. House Bill 1365 requires Xcel 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.
Xcel’s plan calls for cutting oxides of nitrogen by 75 percent at the end of 2017 and by 89 percent at the end of 2022. It also calls for a reduction of sulfur-dioxide emissions by 84 percent, and mercury by 85 percent by 2023.
The plan also allows Xcel to meet the state’s carbon dioxide reduction goal of 20 percent by 2020, according to the utility.
The utility expects that its proposal will result in savings of approximately $225 million.
Critics yesterday focused their opposition around rate hikes and job loss. Xcel itself acknowledges that ratepayers will likely see an increase of at least 1 percent annually over the next decade.
Affordable and Reliable Energy Colorado pushed yesterday for an alternative plan that maintains “reliable existing coal-fueled power plants,” but retrofits them with “state-of-the-art technologies.” The group says the alternative plan would save ratepayers $1 billion.
An analysis submitted to the PUC on the impact to ratepayers by a Colorado State University economist states that the 10-year impact of the proposal would cost ratepayers $89 million and reduce taxes by $2.8 million.
The analysis goes on to state that nearly 2,500 jobs would be lost.
Advocates for those in low-income communities pointed out that Denver has already seen the second-highest electric rate increase in the country, more than 21 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics. Some say any additional increase comes as a significant burden to the poor.
“We can’t afford these prices now, why do they keep pushing them higher, and higher, and higher?” Bishop Phillip Porter, of the All Nations Pentecostal Church of God in Christ in Aurora, asked at a coal industry rally at the Capitol yesterday.
Meanwhile, across the street at Civic Center Station Plaza, environmentalists fought off coal miners and their families who lashed out at the “greenies” for “trying to put us out of a job.”
Lynne Herring held a sign with photos of her family, yelling at environmentalists for trying to take away her family’s livelihood. She has two sons who work at the Twentymile Mine near Oak Creek, Colo., and is concerned that less coal production will eventually cost her family their jobs.
Herring eventually just stood on the platform with the environmentalists who were spearheading the rally, holding her sign and staring at them angrily as they cheered for “Clean Air. Clean Jobs.”
Mike Orpi, who also works at the Twentymile Mine, attempted to stand with the environmentalists holding his sign that read, “Politicians, you took our water. Please do not take our jobs.” But he was asked to stand away from the rally.
Tony St. John, who was a miner for 20 years near Craig, Colo., interrupted the rally several times and attempted to ask questions using his megaphone. But House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, who was participating in the rally, asked St. John multiple times not to interfere with the rally.
“You guys ran this bill through as fast as you could and you didn’t give any of the counties a chance to talk about our economics and how it would devastate it,” St. John told Carroll of the legislation.
But Carroll told St. John that he was “wrong.”
“A lot of misinformation has been placed out there,” said Carroll.
The Speaker of the House encouraged the PUC to adopt the plan proposed by Xcel. A victim of asthma, Carroll held his inhaler as he spoke at the rally yesterday. Supporters say health benefits to pollution cuts as a result of Xcel’s proposal would save $590 million over the next three decades.
“I know that there are some people here who have tried to make this a battle between one industry versus another industry, but we know that’s not true,” said Carroll. “We know that we’re here because this is really about the future of Colorado, this is about the future of our children, this is about making sure that each and every one of us, that when we get up in the morning, we can breathe fresh air.”
The PUC hearing yesterday was only for public comment. A final decision from the PUC is expected this fall.