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Clean Energy Debate Creates Jobs, But At What Cost?

By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS

As the Colorado Public Utilities Commission considers a controversial $1.3 billion plan by Xcel Energy to retire, retrofit or repower six Front Range coal-burning power plants, environmentalists yesterday released a report stating that Colorado solar companies expect to increase hiring 23 percent next year.

Solar companies in Colorado are expanding, and the state has the sixth most solar-related jobs nationwide, according to the report released by Environment Colorado and the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association.

State solar providers are expected to increase their employment by 23 percent next year, according to the report, which was compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Foundation.

State Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, said yesterday that the increase in solar-related employment is linked to clean energy legislation passed by lawmakers in Colorado over the last three years. Two controversial pieces of legislation came out of the Legislature this year, including one by Tyler.

Tyler co-sponsored legislation this year that raised the state’s renewable energy standard from 20 percent by 2020 to 30 percent by 2020.

“With 300 days of sunshine and an innovative workforce, it just made sense to sponsor strong renewable energy legislation,” Tyler said in a statement. “It’s exciting to see the fruits of that labor right in my district with people getting hired on to work in this blossoming industry.”

Another controversial piece of clean energy legislation that made its way through the Legislature this year requires 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.

Xcel has submitted a $1.3 billion plan to the PUC that the utility says would cut oxides of nitrogen by 75 percent at the end of 2017 and by 89 percent at the end of 2022. It also would reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions by 84 percent, and mercury by 85 percent by 2023, according to the utility.

The utility expects that its proposal will result in savings of approximately $225 million.

Critics, mostly from the coal industry, have lined up to oppose the proposal, arguing that it would result in rate hikes and job cuts. Ratepayers will likely see an increase of at least 1 percent annually over the next decade, according to critics.

The Colorado Mining Association has filed a motion with the PUC in connection with the Xcel proposal, calling for two members of the PUC to be disqualified from ruling on Xcel’s plan, citing a conflict of interest.

The industry group says PUC Chairman Ron Binz and Commissioner Matt Baker made “private deals” with Xcel Energy before introduction of the so-called Clean Air-Clean Jobs bill.

The PUC has until the end of December to make a decision on Xcel’s proposal.

A coalition of supporters are expected to rally today at Colfax and Broadway in support of Xcel’s plan, and are expected to deliver a letter to the PUC urging the implementation of the plan.

Denver City Council President Chris Nevitt will lead the coalition today, arguing that the plan will create jobs in the Denver area, while also promoting a clean energy agenda.

“If you think in terms of the whole economy, I think this is probably a good deal from a financial perspective, not a bad one,” said Nevitt. “You can actually put a price on clean air, and I think this brings us clean air at a pretty low price.”

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