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Colorado's biggest greenhouse gas polluter doesn't power homes in the community it pollutes

Comanche stacks.jpg
Posted at 12:00 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 00:52:11-04

PUEBLO, Colorado — Millions of tons of greenhouse gases are emitted from the Comanche power plant in Pueblo each year creating electricity used by consumers who live in other parts of the state.

Xcel Energy, the plant operator, is preparing to close some of its coal-burning operations at the plant, but some environmental activists question why the company can't close it sooner than the current 2040 deadline.

Jamie Valdez is the Colorado Community Organizer for the environmental group Mothers Out Front. He also volunteers with the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

"I don't think a lot of Puebloans realize that we have the state's largest polluter of greenhouse gases right here in our backyard," he said.

Over the course of the last decade, Comanche has emitted between 8 and 9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year according to data reported to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The facility consistently led the state in greenhouse gas emissions until 2020 when the complex's newest and largest power plant, Unit 3, was kept offline for repairs. Even without Unit 3, Pueblo County reported the second-highest greenhouse gas emissions at just over 5 million metric tons with 4.4 million coming from Commanche.

Dr. Velma Campbell, MD is a public health physician and volunteers with multiple environmental advocacy groups in the community. She points out that there are other pollutants in the air coming from Comanche.

"That includes not just CO2 but also other chemicals such as nitrogen and sulfur compounds that have the capacity to impact health on an individual level," Campbell said. "Pueblo deserves better."

Like Valdez, she wants the power plant gone. Xcel Energy is moving in that direction. Units 1 and 2 are currently scheduled to be retired by 2023 and 2025 respectively.

In March, the company announced a new Clean Energy Plan that moves up the retirement date for Unit 3 to 2040. That facility would run at a reduced capacity for its final decade of service.

But Campbell points out that the repairs to Unit 3 raise an important question about reliability.

"Why keep your least reliable power plant operating as your backup for emergencies," she asked.

In March, state regulators reported that all of the extra maintenance and repairs at Unit 3 drove up the cost of energy production to an average rate of $66.25 per megawatt-hour. The report notes that the cost is $20 per hour higher than what was projected at the plant when it was built.

Valdez notes that the cost to ratepayers was also higher than buying electricity from the wholesale market.

It worked out to be more expensive for Xcel's Denver-based ratepayers when the plant was online," he said.

Comanche's service area also brings up questions of justice. The plant has historically served the EVRAZ steel mill, but consumers in Pueblo County are served by either Black Hills Energy or San Isabel Electric Association.

In July, EVRAZ broke ground on a new rail mill that will be powered by the new BigHorn Solar farm, dramatically reducing its consumption from Comanche.

"I don't understand why it's Pueblo's responsibility to take on the burden of pollution and impacts from climate change so that Denver can be supplied with power," Valdez said.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will hold a public hearing on Xcel Energy's 2021 Clean Energy Plan on Thursday, October 28 at the El Pueblo History Museum at 301 N. Union Avenue from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.