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Hickenlooper's climate order could affect Colorado Springs power plant plan

July 12, 2017 Updated: July 13, 2017 at 9:55 pm
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Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks to member of The Gazette newsroom, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Gov. John Hickenlooper's announcement Tuesday committing Colorado to the Paris climate treaty's greenhouse gas reduction goals had officials wondering if it will affect plans to decommission the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant.

Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said Tuesday he had not had a chance to read the order in full but hopes to report to the Utilities board on its implications next week.

Hickenlooper's executive order commits the state to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025, and carbon emissions from electricity generation by 25 percent by 2025 and 35 percent by 2030, as measured against 2012 levels.

"What we can say is that we are well-positioned to support the executive order and to continue to meet expectations of local customers - the citizen owners of clean, reliable, affordable energy," said Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad.

Martin Drake might be the city's most notable emitter of greenhouse gases. Currently, Utilities' goal is to produce a fifth of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, said Forte, up from the current 15 percent. The plant is to be decommissioned by 2035; one of its three coal- and gas-burning units shut down last year.

Amy Gray, local leader for environmental organization 350 Colorado Springs, acknowledged concerns about utilities rates increasing if Drake is decommissioned immediately, but she said she doesn't think the state can achieve the Paris treaty goals with the Drake plant in operation.

"By upholding the Paris climate agreement, we cannot have Drake. It's not healthy and not what Colorado wants to be," Gray said.

City Council President Richard Skorman, who also serves on the Utilities Board, said Utilities is considering closing Drake earlier than the target date. How much sooner, though, he couldn't say.

Skorman also applauded Hickenlooper's order, saying rather than relying on the federal government to handle environmental issues, the responsibility now falls to individual governors and local governments.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers did not take a stance on Hickenlooper's order but expressed faith in Utilities to move forward with economic and environmentally sound policies.

"I think it's appropriate for states and cities to set environmental objectives separate and apart from the federal government if they are so inclined," Suthers said. "I believe that the board and management of Colorado Springs Utilities will pursue policies over the next couple of decades which will balance environmental considerations and ratepayer considerations.

"In other words, they will increase use of renewables and reduce emissions at a pace that works for residential and commercial customers and complies with environmental laws."

Gray said rates are important, but so is public health.

"Economics are important. We don't want our bills to go up, if we could pay just a little more to know that my kids are breathing clean air," Gray said.

Leslie Weise, who is suing Utilities over claims that the Drake plant is pumping "poison" into the air, said Utilities is not acting with enough proactivity and urgency.

"Our local officials need to take bigger and bolder steps to wean themselves off fossil fuels, rather than the incremental steps Utilities is taking," said Weise. "The goal is to get off coal, and Utilities is not doing that fast enough."

Hickenlooper also announced that Colorado will join the U.S. Climate Alliance of businesses and states committed to the Paris climate treaty. After President Donald Trump announced in early June that the United States will abandon the climate treaty, Suthers said he would not join the alliance and criticized mayors who did.

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