Debate on power plant bill delayed in Colo. Senate
Associated Press Writer
DENVER – About 150 people, including environmentalists and natural gas employees, joined Gov. Bill Ritter to make a final push for a bill aimed at using natural gas to decrease power plant emissions along the Front Range.
The crowd rallied on the west steps of the Capitol in advance of what was supposed to be the first vote on the bill in the Senate. Bill sponsor and Senate Republican leader Josh Penry, however, agreed to delay debate until Tuesday after two Republicans said they wanted more time to work on possible amendments.
Penry said he hoped the delay would build wider bipartisan support for the bill and give the main opponents – the coal industry – a last chance to recommend changes.
The measure would require Xcel Energy to reduce emissions at 900 megawatts worth of its coal-fired smokestacks – the equivalent of all four units at its Cherokee plant in Denver and the Valmont plant in Boulder. Xcel would have to give primary consideration to replacing them with ones powered by cleaner burning but more costly natural gas. It could also consider retrofitting the coal units with emission controls or using renewable energy.
The Public Utilities Commission would have the final say on the plan and would have to consider how much it would cause electric bills to increase.
The measure was introduced just two weeks ago and has been moving quickly. It cleared the House with wide bipartisan but since then the coal industry has had more time to urge lawmakers to vote against it.
Meanwhile, bill backers have picked up the support of environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who says Colorado’s attempt to craft its own clean air plan is a model for the nation.
Penry said that endorsement actually hurt efforts to build GOP support for the bill, with some lawmakers wondering whether there’s a catch.
“The catch is, this is the ultimate strange bedfellows scenario that environmentalists can live with that also drives a heck of a lot more drilling in Colorado,” Penry said.
Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said he didn’t like the bill’s preferential treatment for natural gas and that gas will win out over coal if it really is the better choice.
“It’s uncomfortable for us (Republicans) to legislate a market even for a good product,” he said.
The measure is House Bill 1365.