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Utility volunteers to close two coal plants in Colorado

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(Read caption) Smokestacks at a Denver Utility Commission power plant.

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Citing concerns over public health and climate change, Xcel Energy is voluntarily shutting down two coal-fired power plants in Colorado and constructing one of the world's largest solar plants.

After several days of deliberations, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission agreed to Xcel's plan to close its coal plants in Denver and Grand Junction – making it the first time a US utility has volunteered to close power plants (the pair generated a total of 229 megawatts) – because of emissions.

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According to the Rocky Mountain News, the commission also approved Xcel's request to build a 200-megawatt concentrated solar power facility and to add 850 megawatts of wind energy to its system.

Xcel's desire to reduce its emissions comes in response to a Colorado state law that mandates that utilities generate 20 percent of their power from wind, solar, or biomass sources by 2020. Xcel initially opposed an amendment to Colorado's statutes that mandated renewable energy, but ultimately endorsed a stricter version. The Washington Post describes the utility's remarkable turnaround.

When Colorado voters were deciding whether to require that 10 percent of the state's electricity come from renewable fuels, the state's largest utility fought the proposal, warning that any shift from coal and natural gas would be costly, uncertain and unwise.
Then a funny thing happened. The ballot initiative passed, and Xcel Energy met the requirement eight years ahead of schedule. And at the government's urging, its executives quickly agreed to double the target, to 20 percent. ...
"We ended up opposing that amendment. In retrospect, I wish we hadn't," said Frank Prager, Xcel's vice president for environmental policy.

According to the Post, Xcel found that federal tax credits plus the volatile prices of fossil fuels and the likelihood of a federal carbon cap made renewables more attractive to the company.

According to the Denver Business Journal, the coal-plant closures are two to four years away. The wind and solar facilities are expected to be online by 2015. In the meantime, Xcel has proposed using natural gas to cover the power shortfalls.
[via Grist]