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Review of October 27 PUC Hearing on HB 1365: Commissioner Baker Must Be a Persuasive Guy!

Brief Refresher on Xcel’s New Plans

[N.B. I am repeating this refresher on Xcel’s new plans because I think it’s a handy reference]

Xcel on Monday proposed four alternative plans to comply with HB 1365, after its original plan was rejected by the PUC on October 21. The four alternative plans are similar. They all call for the retirement of four coal plants and top-of the line pollution controls for three others. A primary difference among them is their respective treatment of the 351 megawatt Cherokee 4 coal fired power plant. In particular,

  • Plan 5B would install top of the line nitrogen oxide controls at Cherokee 4 by 2017
  • Plan 6.2J would replace Cherokee 4 with new gas generation by 2017
  • Plan 6E FS would fuel switch at Cherokee 4 by 2017, and then replace it with a new gas plant by 2018
  • Plan 6.1E FS would fuel switch at Cherokee 4 by 2017, and then replace it with a new gas plant by 2022.

Click here to see a timeline Xcel’s HB 1365 implementation plan.

PUC Rejects, Then Accepts, One of Xcel’s Four New Plans

As I noted this morning, today was the deadline for parties to object to the admission of Xcel’s new HB 1365 implementation plans, which the utility proposed on Monday. Although the filings were due by 2PM, the PUC seemingly made its admissibility determination at the outset of the meeting.

I say “seemingly” because the decision was very confusing. In deliberations before the hearings began, the PUC reviewed a recommendation by its staff to “whittle down” the four plans proposed by Xcel on Monday, in order to make it easier to accommodate the very tight timeframe set by HB 1365. Specifically, the PUC Staff asked the PUC to excise Xcel Plan 6.2 J, an accelerated version of Xcel’s original, preferred plan. In its filing last night, the PUC Staff said that it “will not be able to address” 6.2 J.

Commissioner Matt Baker was the first to speak, and he disagreed with the staff. His words were garbled, but he seemed to say that the intent of HB 1365 is to achieve the best possible plan to meet reasonably foreseeable air quality regulations, and, therefore, that the PUC should consider all possible scenarios.

Commissioner Baker was refuted by Commissioner James Tarpey and Chairman Ron Binz. Chairman Binz said that under normal circumstances, the PUC would “[allow] a thousand flowers to bloom,” because there would be plenty of time to carefully consider each plan. But given the tight schedule established by HB 1365, whereby four months are given to a resource acquisition plan that would otherwise take years, the Chairman said that, “every time we allow something new it stretches the claim that we are providing due process.”

So it seemed that the PUC agreed with its staff, by a two to one vote, that Xcel Plan 6.2 J should be removed from consideration. Shortly after this apparent decision, the Commissioners took a 15 minute break. When they returned, Commissioner Baker restated his case in favor of includeing Plan 6.2J, which seemed odd. Then Commissioner Tarpey declared that he had changed his mind, and Chairman Binz “tentatively” agreed.

Commissioner Baker must be a persuasive guy!

PUC Sets Deadline for CDPHE To Decide on Fuel Switching Plans

As I noted this morning, Colorado Department of witness Paul Tourangeau testified on Tuesday that Xcel’s recommended Plan 5B and Plan 6.2J would meet all reasonably foreseeable air quality requirements, as required by HB 1365, but he said that his office was still assessing the two fuel switching plans (Plan 6E FS and Plan 6.1E FS).

The PUC today gave the CPDHE until Monday, November 1 to determine whether the two fuel switching plans meet reasonably foreseeable air quality regulations. This is an important determination. If the CDPHE finds that the plans do not meet reasonably foreseeable air quality regulations, they will be discarded.