Increasing renewable energy generation at Colorado utilities

By Sandy Long, Group Leader, Chaffee County CCL Chapter

I grew up in Colorado and am very happy that I moved back a few years ago. Absent federal climate legislation, Colorado has passed legislation to “require” electric utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2030 (over 2005 levels). I use quotes on “require” because it seems that the utilities see this as a goal and that there are limited enforcement mechanisms. Both Tri-State Generation and Xcel Energy have submitted draft Electric Resource Plans (ERPs) to the Colorado Public Utility Commission (PUC) that outline how they will meet the goal. The PUC held hearings for Xcel Energy in December and will hold hearings for Tri-State in late January. Once the PUC makes its final decisions on the ERPs, we will have a better view on whether Colorado can meet its emission reduction targets.

Xcel Energy

Xcel Energy is one of two investor-owned, for-profit, utilities operating in Colorado. Xcel provides natural gas and/or electricity in scattered areas throughout the state. The hearing for public comments on their ERP was held on December 2 with the PUC hearings continuing through December 17. A PUC decision on the Xcel ERP will likely be released in February. In late November, a settlement agreement between Xcel Energy and 14 parties (municipalities, labor groups, and customers) was announced. The good news is that the plan still projects that Xcel Energy will achieve over 80% emissions reduction by 2030. The settlement does include money for “Just Transitions” of coal communities.

Environmental groups are concerned that Comanche 3, a notoriously unreliable coal plant near Pueblo, will not be shuttered until December 2034, although all other Xcel coal plants in the state will be shuttered by 2030. They are also concerned that the coal plant is the largest source of climate pollution in the state and is located in Pueblo, a low-income, Latino community. The settlement also allows Xcel to build new gas plants which would definitely add to emissions and could potentially leave rate payers with stranded assets. With the guaranteed cost recovery of the debt of Comanche 3 and the lack of competitive bids for new renewable electric generation resources to replace Comanche 3, Xcel customers will see higher rates for years to come.

More information on this complicated issue can be found at these links:

Xcel Energy’s New Backroom Deal Is Bad for Coloradans and the Climate | Sierra Club

A settlement, still many questions about Xcel's giant pivot in Colorado - Big Pivots

Electric Utilities | Colorado Energy Office


The Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is the parent regional electric cooperative of my local electric cooperative, Sangre de Cristo Electric Association, and 41 other electric cooperatives. The local coops get 95% of their electricity supply from Tri-State. If you pay for your electricity through a local electric cooperative, you are a member/owner, and have a say in how the coop gets its electricity. Tri-State was put under PUC oversight in 2019 and this is the first ERP they have submitted. In their preferred scenario, Tri-State will not retire their Craig, Colorado coal plant until the end of 2029. They don’t mention any retirement dates for their coal plants in Wyoming or Arizona. Tri-State may build a natural gas plant in 2030 to replace the on-demand baseline power that it currently gets from these coal plants. Public pressure may be needed to direct Tri-State to look at newer renewable energy technologies for this baseline power.

You still have an opportunity to provide public comment if you get your electricity from a coop that gets it from Tri-State. The evidentiary hearing begins on January 31 and the hearing for public comments will be after that. You can make your voice heard in this process — see the next section for instructions.

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