Coal plant closures accelerated with air commission approval of Regional Haze plan

    BRIEF

    Craig Station, a coal-fired power plant in northwest Colorado, is scheduled to be retired by 2030. (Jimmy Thomas/flickr.com/CC BY 2.0)

    At least eight of Colorado’s 11 remaining coal-fired generating units will face mandatory retirement deadlines over the next decade, and three could be required to close earlier than their operators had planned, under a plan given preliminary approval by the state’s Air Quality Control Commission on Friday.

    Colorado was required to submit the plan as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Haze Program, which regulates air quality and visibility in protected zones like national parks and wilderness areas. But regulators and environmental advocates touted the significant “co-benefits” the so-called state implementation plan, or SIP, would bring to the state’s efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and ozone pollution.

    “The AQCC’s decision today is an important step forward in Colorado’s fight against climate change and toxic air pollution,” said Jon Voelz, a Westminster city councilman, in a statement on behalf of Colorado Communities for Climate Action. “The longer these plants operate the longer we have excessive carbon pollution and more expensive electricity.”

    Most of Colorado’s remaining coal plants have announced voluntary retirement dates over the next 10 years, and state regulators sought to make those dates enforceable in the Regional Haze process. But the plan advanced by AQCC commissioners on Friday also incorporated elements of a more ambitious proposal put forward by the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association, which pushed the commission to accelerate the retirements of several plants. Despite pushback from some commissioners and staff at the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, the AQCC advanced the more aggressive proposal on a 5-2 vote.

    Under the new plan, three coal units at Craig Generating Station, Rawhide Energy Station and the Ray Nixon Power Plant would see their mandatory retirement dates moved up by a year, to no later than Dec. 31, 2028. Another two units, at Xcel Energy’s Hayden Generating Station, will be considered for earlier enforced retirements when the AQCC conducts a second phase of the Regional Haze SIP process in 2021.

    “This is undoubtedly a win-win-win situation,” Michael Hiatt, an attorney with environmental group Earthjustice, said in a statement. “Retiring these five coal units early will reduce air pollution at Colorado’s national parks, help Colorado achieve its climate goals and save Coloradans millions of dollars.”

    The AQCC is expected to give final approval to first phase of the Regional Haze SIP at its hearing on Dec. 16.