Colorado air quality regulators at a Dec. 16 meeting changed course from an earlier preliminary decision that would have closed three of the state's remaining coal-fired power plants by 2028.
The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission at a Dec. 16 remote meeting agreed to allow plant owners to determine closure dates for the plants, declining to adopt a plan submitted by the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association that would have retired nearly 1 GW of coal generation one to two years ahead of schedule. The state's four largest electricity providers—Xcel Energy-Colorado, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Platte River Power Authority and Colorado Springs Utilities—opposed the AQCC's Nov. 20 preliminary decision, along with Colorado's Air Pollution Control Division and the Colorado Energy Office (see CEM No. 1618).
The plan would have accelerated the retirement of Platte River Power Authority's 280-MW Unit 1 of the Rawhide Energy Station and Colorado Springs Utilities' 268-MW Ray Nixon Power Plant by two years. Tri-State's Craig Generating Station would have also closed two years earlier than planned with the retirement of its 428-MW Unit 3.
The Air Pollution Control Division offered a separate plan that sets mandatory monitoring and recording procedures for regional haze limits, but no mandatory early coal-closure dates. It received unanimous final approval at the Dec. 16 meeting.
"I do this with great regret, but I have to state that based on new information and further thought, I would like to reconsider my earlier vote," AQCC member Jana Milford said at the meeting. Milford cited the inadequacy of technical information provided in support of NPCA and Sierra Club's proposal, as well as the feasibility of the closures, in her change of heart. Fellow Commissioner Elise Jones was also reluctant to support APCD's proposal, but acknowledged it as "the least [the commission] should do."
"It seems like we've had a pretty good relationship with the utilities, and I want to maintain that," AQCC member Randy Ahrens said during the meeting.
The four utilities on Dec. 11 submitted a request for reconsideration of the preliminary decision, saying the "unprecedented" rulemaking would exceed the AQCC's authority and violate the companies' due-process and property rights. They further argued that decisions about resource adequacy and grid reliability are under the authority of the state's Public Utilities Commission and local utility boards.
Accelerating closures would also "shorten the time for affected communities, the state, and utilities to lay the foundation for just transitions while utilities progress to a clean energy future," utility attorneys James Sanderson and Julie Rosen said in the filing.
Colorado in 2019 passed a bill establishing the country's first Just Transition Office to help coal-dependent communities and coal workers. The Just Transition Advisory Committee on Aug. 1 released its draft report detailing policy recommendations to fulfill the obligations of the just transition (see CEM No. 1602). A final plan is due to Gov. Jared Polis and the state Legislature by Dec. 31.
The APCD in a separate filing Dec. 15 said the accelerated closures could harm future collaborative efforts between the state and utilities by "[sending] a message that will undermine trust" in ongoing discussions regarding the reduction of carbon emissions in the state. These discussions have resulted in part in commitments from the utilities to retire their coal assets by 2030.
"It is clear that adoption of the Alternate Proposal will create a significant litigation risk," Phillip Weiser, attorney for the APCD, said in the filing. "Colorado and national precedent will attract considerable nationwide litigation interest that will be costly and lengthy. In addition to jeopardizing the Regional Haze [plan] itself, this litigation will divert scarce resources from other important air quality initiatives."
Will Toor, executive director of the state energy office, in a Dec. 15 statement submitted to the AQCC agreed that the Colorado PUC was the best venue for resource planning.
"The state's regional haze plan is an opportunity to clear the air in our treasured national parks and surrounding communities, and to move Colorado closer toward achieving its climate goals," the NPCA and Sierra Club said in a joint statement Dec. 16. "As Colorado moves forward on its second phase of the regional haze rulemaking, we will continue our work to reduce air pollution."
Tri-State in a Dec. 16 news release applauded the decision. "The retirement of Craig Station by 2030 requires significant collaborative efforts by the owners of the plant, and local and state leaders, to help impacted communities prepare for what can be a just transition," Tri-State CEO Duane Highley said. "The AQCC's decision provides the certainty needed to move forward."
Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo told California Energy Markets in an email that the company is "pleased with the decision which leaves the broader issues of resource planning to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission," and noted that Xcel's clean-energy plan, due to the PUC in March, will lay out further details on carbon emission reductions over the next decade.