Environmentalists: Retiring Colorado’s Coal Fleet Is Cost-Effective By 2023

<p>(Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)</p>
<p>A coal train enters the Craig Station power plant near Craig, Colo. on Tuesday, June 16, 2015.</p>

Retiring Colorado’s fleet of coal-fired power plants could cut carbon and save utility customers billions of dollars, according to a new analysis by the Sierra Club. 

The study looked at the economic impact of replacing 10 coal units in the state with cheaper wind and solar.

The Sierra Club hired the consulting firm Strategen to examine different scenarios. The firm found that utilities could save about $1.7 billion if they replaced the units with wind, and $1.4 billion if they replaced coal with solar instead. The analysis did not include coal units currently slated for retirement such as Nucla and Xcel’s Comanche Units 1 and 2

When Strategen calculated the social cost of carbon on the plants to account for public health and property damage using recently approved state formulas, it found nearly $18 billion in savings. The social cost of carbon looks at the overall cost of climate change to human health, economies and society.

“The report shows how the coal-fired generation in Colorado’s energy portfolio is economically unviable, and how it’s burdening electricity customers with extra costs when compared with cheaper wind and solar,” said Anna McDevitt, senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

The Sierra Club is calling on electricity providers like Xcel Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to retire coal plants early. State lawmakers have also put new pressures on utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. In the last session, they passed HB 1261, which requires the state overall to reduce emissions 90 percent by 2050. 

Tri-State didn't comment directly on the report's findings, but said in a statement it's doing its own analysis, and remains committed to purchasing renewable energy. Xcel Energy did not respond to requests for comment by press time.