PUC mulls labor effects of proposed power plant conversions

Mike Moran
Business Times

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission continues to stage a series of hearings, listening to testimony on a proposal to convert three Xcel Energy power plants from coal to natural gas.

According to a news release issued by an organization called Good Jobs, Strong Communities, Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt delivered written testimony from dozens of unemployed construction workers and elected officials, asking the PUC to ensure the conversion of the coal-fired powered plants would create good jobs for construction workers who would work on the conversions.

While the switch also is expected to bolster the natural gas industry in Western Colorado, there are concerns it could come at the cost of Western Slope mining jobs.

Many people submitting public comment support the plan to make the conversion to natural gas, but cite a lack of information from Xcel on how the $1.3 billion plan will assure the investment benefits the Colorado labor market.

The PUC is required to consider the conversion plan under the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act enacted by the Colorado Legislature earlier this year. The law requires Xcel to work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to reduce air pollutants by converting, retrofitting or retiring three coal-fired plants by 2017. Under the legislation, the PUC also is required to consider how the Colorado work force benefits from the conversion.

“I strongly support the utility companies using cleaner energy by converting coal-fired plants to cleaner natural gas,” said Tony Roebuck, an apprentice with the Sheetmetal Workers and resident of Brighton. “But I also urge the PUC to require Xcel to ensure the jobs created will be safe jobs, with family supporting wages and benefits with apprenticeship and career path opportunities for Colorado workers.”

At press time, the PUC hearings were expected to continue well into November.