PUEBLO, Colorado — Voters in Pueblo County have a strong preference for renewable power when it comes to decisions about future energy production in their community according to new poll results released exclusively to News5.
When asked to choose their top one or two sources of energy production, solar (60 percent) and wind (47 percent) were the most popular choices followed by natural gas (24 percent) nuclear (19 percent), and coal (17 percent).
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said they strongly support replacing the energy produced at the Comanche Power Generating Station with renewable sources compared to 34 percent who strongly opposed the switch.
In a head-to-head question, wind and solar were preferred over nuclear power as a replacement for coal at Comanche by a 2:1 margin.
"It was evident throughout the county, it was evident with most key subgroup, we just generally saw that very clear preference for wind and solar," said Lori Weigel, the Principal
of New Bridge Strategies.
Xcel Energy (Public Service Corporation of Colorado) owns and operates the Comanche facility. Its only customer in Pueblo County is the EVRAZ steel mill. The majority of the residential customers who enjoy the power produced here live in the Denver area.
The company announced an electric resources plan in 2021 which calls for the retirement of the two oldest plants at the Comanche property by 2025. The company proposes to stop burning coal completely in Pueblo by 2034. The plan brings the company in alignment with new statewide clean air standards which call for an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
The poll was paid for by the Renewable Energy Owners Coalition of America (REOCA). Coalition president Ken Danti said the results reflect the knowledge and passion the community has for cleaning the air in Pueblo County.
"Pueblo is an educated town," Dante said. "They're smart people and if you dug into the disadvantages of nuclear over renewables, I think you'd come to want renewables."
The discussion of nuclear power as a zero-emission replacement source comes from the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners. In testimony to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in October, Commissioner Garrison Ortiz said that Pueblo stands to lose $31 million a year in property tax revenue as a result of the early retirement.
Ortiz stressed to the PUC that the city, county, and school districts have bonded debt based on revenue projections that anticipated the tax revenue from Comanche. He also provided a property tax statement from a nearby solar farm which generates a fraction of the tax revenue that the power plant does.
Comanche 3, the newest of the coal-burning plants in Pueblo, isn't scheduled for decommissioning until 2070. Ortiz asked the PUC to order Xcel to continue paying the property taxes through 2070 or to authorize the company to build and operate a replacement power generation facility that maintains the same tax base and workforce.
He believes the most likely technology to achieve this request is Advanced Small Modular Reactors. The county hosted a town hall meeting in July to learn more about the technology developed by NuScale Power.
Danti points out that Xcel pledged to continue paying the current property tax through 2040. He also believes that Pueblo County can attract solar or wind manufacturers to the community to make up for the lost revenue. Nuclear power also has its own disadvantages.
"Nuclear power doesn't produce greenhouse gases, but it uses radioactive material, and that radioactive waste stays at the plant," Danti said. "There's no storage system in the United States for radioactive waste."
On Friday, four state lawmakers who represent Pueblo County residents sent a letter in support of the early plant retirement plan.
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