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PUC Approves Energy Plan That Could Reduce Health Risks

Xcel plans to replace the lost capacity from the early retirement of Comanche power stations 1 and 2 in Pueblo with a mixture of renewable resources and natural gas. (Mike Lewinski/Fickr)
Xcel plans to replace the lost capacity from the early retirement of Comanche power stations 1 and 2 in Pueblo with a mixture of renewable resources and natural gas. (Mike Lewinski/Fickr)
August 28, 2018

DENVER — Colorado's Public Utilities Commission has signed off on Xcel Energy's Colorado Energy Plan. And according to new analysis by the Colorado Fiscal Institute, the plan should bring significant health benefits.

The plan calls for shuttering two coal-fired power plants in Pueblo County a decade ahead of schedule, and replacing their capacity largely with wind and solar. Report author Abby Pizel, natural resource policy analyst with the institute, said the plan could reduce air pollutants by as much as 55 percent of current levels.

"That's going to lead to approximately $7.8 million in health care spending savings for Pueblo County,” Pizel said; “and upwards of $95.2 million for the state of Colorado."

Air pollutants can exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis and increase the risk of heart attacks. Pizel added that bad air also can lead to lower productivity and lost wages from days missed at work, and reduced quality of life from outdoor activity restrictions.

Critics of the plan worry the move away from coal could lead to higher rates for consumers and cost jobs at Comanche's Number One and Two power stations.

Pizel noted the PUC has directed Xcel to maintain or lower rates. And she points to University of Colorado Leeds School of Business projections that suggest jobs will actually increase, especially in the early stages of the plan.

"Overall, it looks like jobs are going to increase in the short term when you have an influx of capital investment, so building new wind farms and solar installations,” she said. “In the long term, it's going to plateau and maintain current levels, if not slightly above."

Pizel said her analysis, which calculates health incidents avoided by reduced air pollutants, suggests that Xcel's plan also will lead to fewer premature deaths.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO