Colorado’s three-member Public Utilities Commission gave its approval on Monday to a proposed $2.5 billion investment in solar, wind and natural gas power in the state.
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy is seeking to build several large-scale renewable energy projects while retiring two of its coal-fired power plants in Pueblo. According to Xcel, the so-called Colorado Energy Plan will add about 1,100 megawatts of wind power and 700 MW of solar power to its grid by 2026.
In a statement, Xcel Energy president Alice Jackson said the plan would substantially reduce the company’s carbon emissions and stimulate economic development in rural parts of Colorado.
“We value the partnership with our stakeholders who supported this plan and its approval,” she said. “We are excited to move forward.”
The plan also adds 380 MW of existing natural gas generation to the public utility’s portfolio, as well as 275 MW of large-scale battery storage.
In a deliberation leading up to the vote, commissioner Wendy Moser warned the new energy infrastructure and Pueblo coal plant closures will have statewide impacts.
“The customers of Xcel Energy will pay for the retirement of these plants and it will show up in rates,” she said. “So don’t think that this is free and that it’s going to be borne by somebody else.”
Critics of Xcel’s plan argue it will cost Pueblo about 80 coal jobs in total and put unneeded financial stress on consumers. Amy Oliver Cooke, director of the Denver-based Coalition of Ratepayers, said in a statement it will drive up monthly utility bills.
“(It) will cost Colorado ratepayers additional money,” she said. “We are disappointed that the commissioners didn’t require the monopoly utility to keep its promise of a plan that saves money for customers.”
Cooke did not offer a specific amount for the bill increase.
Supporters outside Xcel say construction of new wind and solar farms will boost rural economies while reducing the company’s overall carbon emissions.
In a letter to the PUC sent Aug. 25, seven county commissioners from across the state pledged their support for the the plan.
“Rural Colorado has fallen behind in key economic areas and it is affecting our local communities,” the letter said. “Serving as a leader in renewable energy production is not only a source of pride in our counties but it is a key economic factor that will help us grow and strengthen our local communities.”
Now, Xcel will begin negotiating contracts with bidders to oversee construction and operations.
The commission will issue a written order by early September. Those opposed to the decision have the option of appealing.
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