Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Some question fast-tracked air-quality legislation

Some lawmakers are raising doubts about an air-quality plan for Colorado that is being fast-tracked through the General Assembly by legislative leadership in order to comply with federal mandates. Critics of the plan on Monday introduced legislation of their own that they say provide more cost-effective alternatives.

Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, of Highlands Ranch, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader, John Morse, of Colorado Springs, are both sponsoring House Bill 1291, which approves wholesale a state improvement plan adopted earlier by the Public Utilities Commission and the Air Quality Control Commission. Now, two senators, one Democratic, one Republican, have introduced measures that would temper that plan with modifications they say are needed.

Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, is sponsoring Senate Bill 236, replacing a keyprovision of the PUC-backed plan with what Tochtrop says is a less costly approach that would retrofit one of Xcel Energy’s coal-fired power plants in metro Denver with updated emission-control technology. The PUC plan instead mandates a fairly quick conversion to natural gas-fired power generation at the plant.

Tochtrop notes that her approach actually was Xcel’s own preferred plan when it approached the PUC on the issue last year, and she said it would save consumers $132 million over the next 10 years while also reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by 85 percent—just a percentage point shy of the 86 percent reduction projected under the PUC’s plan.

“There is virtually no difference between the plans with respect to the effect on the environment,” said Tochtrop. “However, my plan saves the consumer money.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud has introduced Senate Bill 237, which calls back another provision of the PUC-approved plan that Lundberg says would require Xcel’s coal-fired power plant in Hayden to exceed federal standards for emissions reductions and cost-effectiveness.

Federal law, says Lundberg, clearly states that the state improvement plan must factor in cost-effectiveness and cannot ask for more stringent controls. The PUC’s plan does not comply, says Lundberg, and discriminates against coal as a fuel source.

“I want to be fuel-neutral and find the most cost effective methods,” said Lundberg. “I’m not convinced that the current … plan will do that.”

Supporters of the PUC plan, however, say they are looking at the big picture.

Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, while not having looked at the proposed alternatives, says she supports the pending PUC plan and is not inclined to deviate from its goals.

“We need a long-term, comprehensive approach to protecting the environment, addressing (federal) issues,” said Schwartz. “When we look at costs, we need to look at overarching costs in terms of air quality and the impacts on people and businesses when we don’t meet targets.”

Both Tochtrop and Lundberg say they want what’s best for consumers in terms of cost and environmental considerations.

For instance, Tochtrop says she has been told that, for many industries in her district, utility bills now fall just under payroll expenses. That’s not sustainable, she says.

“Consumers are hurting and they need help,” she says. “I have constituents who need to heat their homes and run their businesses without unnecessary cost increases.”

Lundberg says it’s also a matter of transparency.

“The people of Colorado need to know the cost benefit of the … plan that is being imposed on them,” he said.

All three measures will be heard in the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee.

Via – Colorado News Agency

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