Pueblo is preparing for a future without coal. Its residents have thoughts on how and when to do it.

Miguel Otárola/CPR News
Residents shared their views on Xcel Energy’s plans to close the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo by 2040 at the El Pueblo History Museum, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021

Colorado regulators visited Pueblo on Thursday to hear from residents about plans by Xcel Energy to stop burning coal in the city and close the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Conversations about the future of Xcel’s activities in Pueblo have grown since the utility released a report detailing its plans to transition to clean energy in the coming decades, which included a proposal to shut down the Comanche Generating Station’s last coal-fired unit by 2040.

Environmental activists have pushed for the plant to close this decade, while other residents and county leaders said they expected the coal-fired unit would run until 2070, its original retirement date. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is expected to vote on when the plant should close in the coming months.

More than 120 people filled the atrium of the El Pueblo History Museum, including Pueblo County commissioners and Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar. The state’s three public utility commissioners sat silently in front of the room as residents shared their views on when the plant should close — and what should replace it.

Many speakers said Xcel Energy should stop burning coal as soon as possible and that the Comanche plant should close no later than 2030. They said Pueblo County should then focus on replacing the plant with renewable energy by approving wind and solar projects to generate electricity.

Several speakers also shared their frustration with Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, which does not direct any of the electricity it generates from the coal plant to Pueblo residents.

“It’s very sad that we produce the energy, we live with the pollution that comes from it, and the energy goes to Denver and the Front Range,” said Carole Partin, a retired schoolteacher. “It’s just not fair.” 

Others told commissioners keeping the coal plant running as long as possible was essential for energy production and local property tax revenues.

Bob Castro, who works in a control room at the Comanche plant, said he believed the state would produce significantly less energy if it were to close the plant and rely solely on solar and wind energy. 

When it comes to the environmental impact of energy production, “there are no free rides,” Castro said.

“But to make Comanche the enemy? You are not looking at the whole picture,” he said.

Residents also used the meeting as an opportunity to publicly oppose Pueblo County commissioners’ interest in replacing the Comanche plant with modular nuclear reactors if it were to close this decade. Partin said the idea was confusing given the recent launch of a solar array that would power the local steel mill.

“What the heck?” Partin said. “We are trying to become a renewable community, we are trying to renew our image, and this just kills me.”

The Public Utilities Commission, which must approve new energy generation projects, is not currently considering a proposal to build a nuclear plant in Pueblo, commission spokesperson James Cullen said.

The commission had previously held public meetings on Xcel’s plan in Fort Morgan and Craig. A virtual hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Dec. 2.