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Pueblo County commissioners express concern about possible early closing of Xcel’s Comanche #3 power plant

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Comanche #3 coal-fired power plant was scheduled for closure by 2040 but now may shut down sooner -- creating economic issues for the area, a county commissioner said Tuesday.

Commissioner Garrison Ortiz told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that the early closure possibility is based not on specific information, but on "chatter that we've heard from political groups that the plant could be targeted."

Speaking at Tuesday's regular board meeting, Ortiz voiced concern about the possibility, saying that it would eliminate high-paying jobs and property tax revenue that would fund several important capital improvement projects.

"If the plant closes early, we lose around 100 jobs with an average annual salary of $80,000," he said. "Those are the jobs that we want, the jobs that bring up our workforce and help people stay and remain in Pueblo."

The commissioner said that extending the historic Riverwalk, extending Joe Martinez Boulevard and expanding the Runyon Field sports complex are among the projects targeted for funding by the plant's property tax revenue.

Those projects, Ortiz said, have been designed and are nearly ready for construction.

"You're also talking about the library district, the school district, the city, the county, the Lower Arkansas (Valley Water Conservancy District) and others that receive annually over $15 million," he said.

It's unclear whether Comanche #3 has generated the kind of opposition regarding emissions, environmental impact and eyesore complaints that led Colorado Springs Utilities to schedule closing its Drake power plant a decade earlier than originally scheduled.

"The renewable side is coming to the forefront as technology and science advance," Ortiz said. "But we also have some practical realities that we're trying to deal with, as well."

The commissioner said that local leaders had similar concerns when, in the fall of 2019, Xcel announced it would close two sister plants -- Comanche #1 and #2 -- in 2022 and 2025, respectively.

At the time, Xcel said that those closures will eliminate 85 jobs and affected workers can find other jobs within the company.

The trio of plants are part of the same complex, with Comanche #3 being the newest and is believed to be Colorado's largest coal-fired plant.

Xcel plans to replace the electricity produced at Comanche #1 and #2 with power provides by wind, solar, and battery storage.

How an early closure of Comanche #3 would affect Xcel's energy portfolio is unknown at this point.

Xcel provided the following response to our question Tuesday:

Comanche 3 serves an important role in energy supply stability and reliability when other generation resources are not sufficient to meet demand, while making sure our customers continue to have the reliable and affordable energy they need. Just this week, it was a valuable resource providing support not just to our customers in Colorado, but the entire region as we all managed the record-breaking cold. We also recognize the economic importance of the facility to the community of Pueblo and our employees.

As you may know, we will be presenting our next electric resource plan to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission next month, which will present the resources needed to meet customer demand, achieve at least an 80 percent carbon reductions from 2005 levels and ensure reliable and affordable service through 2030 and beyond.

Xcel Energy

County commissioners released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

Today, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved a resolution hiring Frances Koncilja to represent the BOCC in the upcoming Electric Resource Plan  (ERP) that Xcel Energy will file next month. 

In the last six months, some members of the environmental community have been pushing for the early closure of all coal plants—tomorrow is what they prefer.  They are issuing press releases and sponsoring articles in the  national press  and in  state publications The BOCC is concerned about emissions from all industry sectors, not just from electric utilities and we want to ensure that the citizens of Pueblo County have a strong and knowledgeable voice in  the ERP. 

BOCC applauds Xcel Energy for its leadership in reducing emissions in Colorado, but the economic pain of reducing emissions must be shared across the state and across all sectors, not just electric utilities.  Pueblo has already done its part in reducing emissions when it agreed to the early closure of Comanchee 1 and 2.  Pueblo ratepayers already face some of the highest electric costs in the state as the result of Clean Air Clean Jobs.

Ortiz told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that commissioners may provide more details at its meeting next Tuesday.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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