Let’s Start Our Diet Today–Not “Tomorrow….” Reductions in CO2 Emissions Needed Now–Not in 5-10 Years

Submitted by Leslie Glustrom on March 6, 2010 – 11:11am

Yesterday, March 5, 2010 was a red letter day for the climate and clean energy campaigns in Colorado.

First the State Senate passed a 30% by 2020 Renewable Portfolio Standard for the Investor Owned Utilities in Colorado and the bill is expected to be signed soon by Governor Ritter. This is a hugely important step forward and there are many that deserve credit for making it happen. Governor Ritter, Xcel, Environment Colorado led the way, with strong support from Colorado’s many climate and clean energy organizations, including of course, Clean Energy Action.

Then, late in the day yesterday news was released of a plan to retire or repower Front Range coal plants. Designed as a plan to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and address more stringent Clean Air Act requirements and issues of regional haze, the plan would include the evaluation of retiring, converting or replacing 900 megawatts of Front Range coal plants. This is likely to include an evaluation of the North Denver “Cherokee” coal plant as well as the Boulder Valmont coal plant, but this won’t be fully clear until further details become available.

Yesterday was indeed an historic day as Colorado worked to increase its commitment to developing its abundant wind and solar resources while at the same time agreeing to retire aging coal plants. It was enough to make this seasoned activist cry not once, but twice and everyone who cares about Colordo’s air and economy–to say nothing of the fate of the only planet we know of that supports life–should be cheering. Nonetheless, there is room for a sober assessment of where we are.

First, let’s begin by talking about the workers and families who depend on employment in coal plants. Much care must be taken to ensure that these workers are provided with a just transition as Colorado moves past its reliance on coal for electricity. This author has suggested a 0.05% surcharge on electric bills to fund a transition program for coal plant workers. This would be a very small surcharge–less than a dime a month on a typical residential utility bill–that would provide over $1 million a year to provide support and retraining for Xcel’s coal plant workers during the transition.

Secondly, it is critical that we speed up this process. Colorado is now in the position of a dieter or alcoholic that is committed to starting their diet or sobriety program–tomorrow. While this is a big improvement from where we’ve been, it is critical that we begin carbon dioxide (and mercury and arsenic and particulates and nitrogen oxide) reductions  now–not in the next 5-10 years.

The Unit 3 coal plant in Pueblo will increase our state’s carbon dioxide emissions significantly and Xcel intends to bring that coal plant on line in the next couple of weeks. The effect of the Unit 3 coal plant on Colorado’s carbon dioxide emissions can be seen in a number of places, but it is perhaps most clearly shown by the increasing purple line in the graph on page 11 of the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office REDI report issued in December 2009.

When you’re getting dressed you don’t put your pants and shirt on and then put on your underwear; you’d soon be taken in for a mental evaluation. Similarly, when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, we should retire old coal plants first–and then decide what to do about the new coal plant in Pueblo. With approximately 14,000 MW of wind and solar projects awaiting development in Colorado, there is good reason to believe that we can both retire the Front Range coal plants, and not start up the 750 MW Unit 3 coal plant in Pueblo.

Colorado has made an excellent start–but let’s start our diet before we indulge in the carbon emissions of the new Unit 3 coal plant in Pueblo.

The last time I checked, we really did know of only one planet that supports life and a single typo in the midst of thousands of pages of IPCC reports does not change the seriousness of the science on climate change.

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