Pueblo County Commissioners on April 28 unanimously approved an agreement to close the Pueblo-based Comanche 3 power plant on Dec. 31, 2031, marking the end of the use of coal by Xcel Energy to produce electricity in Colorado.
The agreement, which would close the troubled power plant nine years earlier than initially expected, has won the approval of several environmental groups and avoids financial hardship for government agencies in Pueblo County that rely on the $25 million in property tax revenue generated by the plant every year.
It calls for Xcel to continue tax payments to Pueblo County until the original closing date of Dec. 31, 2040.
The length of time those payments will be made could be "reduced if there is a replacement generation source built (by Xcel) in Pueblo County," said Frances Koncilja, a Pueblo attorney who was hired to negotiate the settlement on the county's behalf.
The agreement "alleviates our property tax concerns and, it is almost unbelievable, but we are very grateful to Public Service for finding a way to keep us whole on our property taxes," said Garrison Ortiz, commission chairman.
By the time Comanche 3 is retired, it will be the last coal-fired power plant to operate in the state.
The state's focus on the use of clean energy and reducing carbon emissions has prompted the closure of coal-fired power plants. Two other Comanche plants are scheduled to cease operations by 2025, Xcel Energy media relations representative Michelle Aguayo said in a statement.
"I want to thank Xcel for showing that they are a good corporate leader that is willing to do what they need to do as far as how it affects the environment as well as how the community of Pueblo is affected," said Chris Wiseman, commissioner.
The county was relying on the property tax from the power plant to help finance projects approved by voters in 2016, including the extension of Joe Martinez Boulevard between Pueblo West and Pueblo that will provide access to a new Pueblo County jail site. Other projects would cover the expansion of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, airport improvements, new trails, and Main Street and Union Avenue improvements.
Ortiz said the county spent nearly $14 million on the first round of 1A financing to produce architectural and engineering plans for many projects that "over the last year and a half, we did not even know if they could be built," due to the possible loss of the property tax revenue once the power plant closed.
"We lost out on all that time when there were historically low interest rates," Ortiz said.
"This was not an easy fight and it had the potential to adversely impact others like the library district, and the school district with an immediate hit of property tax loss," Ortiz explained.
The plan is expected to get final approval from the Colorado Utilities Commission. It will ensure that Xcel exceeds state carbon dioxide emissions targets, reducing carbon emissions by at least 85% between 2005 and 2030, Aguayo said.
Among environmental groups that signed on to the agreement were Western Resource Advocates, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Colorado Independent Energy Association, Koncilja said.
Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.