Xcel Energy’s announcement that it plans to shut down coal-fired Units 1 and 2 at the Comanche Generating Station and switch to more solar, wind and gas-fired energy set off a chain of reactions, with Republican state senators claiming Xcel was putting profits over customers, and environmental groups endorsing the decision.

Xcel executives told reporters Tuesday they intended to shut down the two older coal-fired units by the mid- 2020s, leaving Unit 3 to continue to serve customers, such as EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, charged that renewable energy — like solar and wind — already get tax credits and other government preferences. He said Republicans believe the coal-fired power coming from Comanche is the “most affordable and dependable” in the state.

Sonnenberg said lawmakers heard of the plan late in the last session of the General Assembly, and GOP legislators rejected the idea. He accused Xcel of “trying to pull a fast one” by filing its proposal with the Colorado Public Utililties Commission, which oversees the state’s investor-owned utilities, including Xcel and Black Hills Energy.

It would be the PUC that would authorize any change in the operations at Comanche, unless lawmakers took some extraordinary action to intervene.

State Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, said he was filing an open-records request with the PUC to obtain Xcel documents about the proposed closure.

He accused the current three PUC commissioners — Frances Koncilja, Jeff Ackermann and Wendy Moser — of being anti-coal.

“It’s hard to trust the PUC will consistently act as independently as it ought to, or always act in the energy consumer’s interest, when its members are all appointed by (Gov. John Hickenlooper) whose own agenda may not put ratepayers first,” Cooke said in a statement.

On the other side, the Sierra Club was optimistic Wednesday.

Zach Pierce, an advocate for replacing coal-fired energy, said Xcel was taking the lead in providing cleaner power.

“Xcel recognizes the opportunity to meet the growing customer demand for power that doesn’t pollute Colorado’s air and water,” he said in a statement.

David Cockrell, a Pueblo Sierra Club member, said, “We have dreamed about the prospect of closing Comanche 1 and 2 for years, both for the reduction in (carbon dioxide) emissions and for the local clean air benefits.”

That said, Cockrell said he was concerned about the loss of jobs in the Pueblo community.

Xcel officials predicted that shutting down Units 1 and 2 over the next decade would cost about 90 jobs.

The Pueblo County commissioners said they have been discussing the change with Xcel officials for weeks.

“We understand Xcel’s proposal could well position Pueblo County as a national leader in the emerging clean-energy economy,” they said in a statement. But they added they were focused on protecting local jobs and tax revenues, as well.

Commissioner Sal Pace predicted that the planned change could actually bring an increase in total jobs. Between adding wind and solar power, along with building a new transfer station and other construction, the county could see a net increase, he said.

“Xcel also explained that they don’t expect to lay anyone off because current operations would continue for several years,” he said.

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