Pueblo County commissioners remain opposed to emissions reduction bill despite amendments

Sara Wilson
The Pueblo Chieftain

Pueblo County commissioners remain persistent in their opposition to proposed requirements for greenhouse gas emissions reduction across multiple sectors, despite amendments to remove threats to the lifespan of Xcel’s Comanche 3 power plant.  

The board came out against SB21-200 last month, claiming that it would force an early closure of the Pueblo plant, which generates approximately 60% of the financing structure for the county’s 1A capital improvement projects. It was a rare stance on a state legislative issue that hadn’t yet made it through committee at that point, let alone hit either chamber’s floor for a vote.  

The Senate Committee on Transportation & Energy ended up amending on a 4-3 vote the crucial part of the bill that would have required Xcel to craft a plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 95% between 2035 and 2040, the provision that some said could be interpreted as forcing the plant’s early closure. Comanche 3 is set to shut down by 2040 already according to its own energy resource plan. 

“It was being interpreted as requiring Comanche 3 to close early, but that entire provision has since been amended out of the legislation,” said Erin Overturf, the Clean Energy Program director for the conservationist nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.  

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Despite that amendment, county commissioners remain opposed to the legislation, primarily because of language they say could affect utility rates.  

“It does still appear that the other half of the issue is the investments that Black Hills Energy would be required to make on the electric side, doing away with natural gas,” commission chair Garrison Ortiz said during last week’s work session and legislative update. 

The bill would require Black Hills to create a clean energy plan to reduce its emissions by 80% by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. The company already announced in January that it will voluntarily submit a plan to the Public Utilities Commission to achieve those goals.  

“There's something really important that I feel like is getting left out of a lot of these conversations about the impact of Senate Bill 200 on Black Hills Energy, and that's that Black Hills already voluntarily agreed to do this,” Overturf said.  

“I do not understand the claims that this is going to be a substantial change from what they were already planning to do.” 

Black Hills is also concerned about the investment costs and taxes that could arise if the bill passes. 

“The legislation proposed by SB200 is headed into uncharted territory without understanding of risk or impact to consumers. While the costs are speculative at this time the expectation is that there will be increased costs to businesses, families, and industry at a time when Colorado is trying to pull itself out of the economic recession caused by COVID-19,” Julie Rodriguez, public information officer for the company, wrote in an email.  

"We already pay some of the highest energy bills here in Pueblo County," Commissioner Chris Wiseman said. "Our biggest concern is that some of the improvements and some of the things they would force Black Hills to do during this process would require investments. With that would come increased cost for our utilities."

House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar and Senate President Leroy Garcia, Democrats who both represent Pueblo, told the commissioners that they hear their concerns, but want to try to amend the bill so that if it is signed into law, the threats to Pueblo are minimized. 

“If these amendments don’t go far enough or if you don’t think they resolve the concerns as presented, we’ll contemplate other things," Garcia said during last week’s work session. 

The Senate moved the second reading of the bill to the bottom of the legislative calendar on Friday. 

Gov. Jared Polis has signaled his opposition to the legislation.

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Chieftain reporter Sara Wilson can be reached via email at SWilson@gannett.com or on Twitter @WilsonSaraJane.