December 10, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Alanna Jackson | Illustration by Sierra Romero
Sometimes if I really want to give myself a fright, I meander on over via the interwebs to the Climate Clock – a digital art installation that counts down the critical time window to reach zero emissions. Right now, the countdown says that we have a little less than eight years left to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Even if I want to escape the doom of climate disaster, my typical method, social media, is ineffective. Even my TikTok “For You Page” is predominately saturated with videos calling for individual climate accountability, rallying for land back to indigenous folks, and communicating collective anxiety surrounding the daunting harms of the climate emergency.
However, while the issue of climate change is all-consuming and ever-present, little victories make all the difference, and they are happening right in Colorado College’s backyard.
On Nov. 26, 2021, Xcel Energy, the fourth largest transmission system in the United States, agreed to close Pueblo County’s Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant, the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, by 2035. This is a massive leap from its original closure date of 2070.
The decision comes after pressure on the Public Utilities Commission from community leaders and activists. They advocated for the closure to align with Colorado’s emission reduction and clean energy initiatives.
Housed under Xcel, which serves about 1.2 million natural gas  customers and 1.3 million electric customers in Colorado, Comanche 3 released 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide last year. Under state law, utilities like Xcel must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% over 2005 levels by 2030.
The settlement, which was approved by Xcel and 17 other parties, including the state Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate, the Pueblo city and county governments, the Colorado Energy Office, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Rocky Mountain Environmental Labor Coalition, the Colorado Solar and Storage Association, and Walmart, ensures that Xcel must slash emissions by 87% or more by 2030, and Xcel itself aims to generate fully carbon-free electricity by 2050.
For Xcel to steadily transition to closure of the plant, they will need to diminish Comanche operations to 60% in 2025, 50% in 2027, and 33% in 2029. Xcel will continue to pay taxes to Pueblo County through 2040, cited as the “just transition” method; right now, they provide a substantial base of taxes for the county, which helps to fund various capital infrastructure and building projects.
The plant has been afflicted by issues around operations, equipment, and finance since its opening in 2010; these setbacks were the main reasons for more than 700 days of unforeseen shutdowns, including all of 2020. With the plant closing earlier than expected, conversations about the future of Xcel’s activities have accelerated, focusing mainly on the possibility for wind and solar energy as replacements.
While several parties were looped into negotiations of the settlement, no environmental groups were present. Environmental groups have critiqued the settlement, stating that while it is a step in the right direction, it may allow a new natural gas generation plant to be established on the site.
“The OCA opposed any new fossil fuels, but in the agreement, decisions would be made on modeling assessment for new capacity,” said Cindy Schonhaut, the Consumer Advocate’s executive director. “In a settlement no one gets everything they want.”
“Environmentalists are also wary about the settlement because it creates insufficient certainty for emissions reductions and could commit Xcel to new long-term investments in fossil-fuel resources and operations,” Gwen Farnsworth, a senior policy adviser at Western Resource Advocates, said in a statement.
On Thursday, Oct. 28, more than 120 people, including several CC students and representatives from Sierra Club, Western Resource Advocates, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, filled the atrium of the El Pueblo History Museum to voice their views and brainstorm alternative energy approaches for the plant. The three commissioners for Colorado’s Public Utility Commission, Pueblo County commissioners, and Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar were also in attendance.
People shared frustrations with Xcel, including its current structure, which funnels energy away from Pueblo residents. Community members highlighted this inconsistency, voicing their anger that the energy is streamlined to Denver and the Front Range while Pueblo residents are subjected to the pollution of the plant.
Julieta Lechini ’22, an international student from Uruguay who volunteers with the Sierra Club, was one of the CC students who attended the event. Lechini drove to Pueblo with some friends to stand in solidarity with the locals in Pueblo.
She advocated strongly for closure of the plant, especially since the pollution affects both Pueblo and Colorado Springs. She described the hearing as intense yet inspiring.
“There was a lot of movement and many people voiced their opposition to the power plant, especially the alterative solution of creating a nuclear plant,” Lechini said. Folks rallied against this idea as they expressed that it would negatively affect their communities and wellness. Lechini asserted, “Alternatives should not be something that can bring more danger or put our communities in more dangerous situations.”
For Lechini, the best part about the event was seeing students and locals alike united across different generations, positionalities, and backgrounds while volunteering with the Sierra Club, an organization which loves hearing and working with youth advocates. Lechini enjoys hearing about the perspectives of other organizations pushing for the closure of the plant, feeling inspiration and motivation to make a change herself. She explained that this event and her work with Sierra Club has shown to her the “importance of how we look at our future and how we create alternative solution for the long term.”
Lechini has led efforts to write letters and emails to legislators and elected officials, take surveys for data surrounding environmental preservation, and attend protests and events.
“These are easy tasks that I hope students get more involved with because though they may seem small, they make a huge difference,” Lechini said. Sierra Club is currently working on a “no coal” project, which had been incremental in the closure of the Martin Drake Coal Plant in Colorado Springs in August 2021.
This news is near and dear to my heart since Pueblo is my hometown. To me, this decision and acknowledgement of the efforts of Puebloan protestors and community organizers demonstrates Pueblo’s commitment to sustainability and the health and futures of Southern Coloradoans.[EL2]
From this mini victory, it is apparent that the voices and efforts of community organizers have weight; attending hearings, volunteering, and writing to elected officials are all minute actions with tremendous weight. Even though posts on social media, news articles, and depictions of an “inevitable” apocalypse at the hands of climate change fester in my thoughts nearly every day, this news shows that positive change can occur.
If you are looking to get involved, check out the Sunrise Movement at CC, Sierra Club, and/or the Environment and Ecology Coalition through the Collaboration for Community Engagement. Look out for local and campus events, such as the upcoming partnership between the Environment and Ecology Coalition and Native American Student Union (NASU) to push for #StopLine3.
Reach out to Anna Vera, student issue organizer for this coalition, at email@example.com, NASU co-chairs Andres Madrigal at firstname.lastname@example.org and Casmali Lopez at email@example.com, or Julietta Lechini, volunteer at Sierra Club, at firstname.lastname@example.org.