On Friday, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Xcel Energy, and a coalition of lawmakers, energy companies, and environmentalists announced agreement on legislation that will lead the nation in cutting air pollution, creating jobs, and increasing the use of cleaner energy sources.

The proposed Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act would require Xcel Energy to sharply reduce pollutants by retiring, retrofitting, or repowering Front Range coal-fired power plants by the end of 2017, and replacing them with facilities fueled by natural gas and other lower- or non-emitting energy sources.

Under the proposal, Xcel Energy would work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to submit plans by Aug. 15 to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at coal plants by up to 80% over the next eight years, and likely sooner. Xcel is Colorado’s largest utility, serving more than 1.1 million residential customers.

Xcel Energy’s plan would include an evaluation of retiring or retrofitting 900 MW of coal-fired capacity at metro-area power plants, giving primary consideration to replacing or repowering those plants with natural gas and other lower-emitting resources. The press release noted that "Colorado has the third-largest reserves of natural gas and is the seventh-largest producer of natural gas."

"Xcel Energy supports proposed legislation to establish a comprehensive process for addressing more stringent current and future federal Clean Air Act requirements," said David Eves, president and CEO for Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel Energy company. "The company is optimistic that any final legislative proposal would focus on meeting these requirements in a fashion that is cost-effective for consumers and ensures ongoing system reliability. We look forward to working with the Governor’s Office and the General Assembly to develop the framework that will help us to meet these goals."

A Denver Post  editorial expressed concern about the potential cost ramifications of Colorado’s shift away from using coal as a fuel for its power plants: "We also hope that the plans will come with an assessment of how much environmental improvement residents can expect to see, and a price tag so Coloradans have some idea of the financial obligations that will accompany such progress."

Meanwhile, Xcel is in the process of having noise abatement equipment manufactured for the Comanche 3 power plant in Pueblo, Colo. Comanche 3, the utility’s latest addition to its coal-fired fleet, has emitted a persistent "penetrating noise" since start-up that has disturbed nearby residents’ sleep.

Xcel spokesperson Mark Stutz told POWERnews that the sound is traveling from the induction draft fan system up a 500-foot stack. Though the nearest homes are "several miles away," the utility is addressing the concern and plans to have baffle equipment installed inside the fan ductwork or inside the base of the stack toward the end of April.

Though the unit was originally scheduled to be online by the end of last year, its new in-service date is March 24, and it is expected to enter commercial service on or about April 10. Meanwhile, Comanche 3 continues to undergo various testing and system checks. The unit will be taken offline for installation of the baffle equipment.

Sources: Office of Gov. Ritter, Denver Post, Pueblo Chieftain, Xcel Energy