Colorado Power Supplier to Add Three Coal Plants

Colorado's second-biggest power supplier, Westminster's Tri- State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., plans to invest $5 billion over the next 15 years to generate and deliver more electricity to thousands of households in the West.

The plans call for building three coal-fired power plants and 550 miles of transmission lines, the high-voltage power lines that carry electricity from the remote plants to towns and cities.

A $1.8 billion coal-fired plant producing 600 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 600,000 average homes - is planned for southeast Colorado. Tri-State is looking for a site near either Lamar, La Junta or Las Animas.

But before the Colorado plant is built, two others - each producing 600 megawatts - will be built adjacent to an existing 300- megawatt plant in Holcomb, Kan.

Tri-State's plans come on the heels of Xcel's decision to build a $1.4 billion coal-fired plant in Pueblo. The last such plant in Colorado was built 22 years ago.

"There was a big boom of coal-fired plants 20 or 30 years ago, and it took a long time to use that extra (supply) of electricity," said Andy Roberts, a senior consultant at Boulder-based Platts, an energy industry information service. "Today, what's driving the boom is the record-high cost of alternative fuel such as natural gas.

"Also, there is abundant supply of coal at a low cost. Utilities don't worry about where the next truck is coming from, especially in Colorado."

Tri-State is owned by 44 rural electric systems that serve about 1 million customers in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Nebraska. The new power plants will serve the growing needs of its customers, especially in Colorado, where Tri-State had record high demand for electricity this July.

The two Kansas plants together will cost $2.5 billion. Construction on the first plant would begin in 2010, and it would start generating power by mid-2013. The second would go online in late 2014.

The Colorado plant would begin construction in 2016 and go online by 2020. The proposed cost of the Colorado plant at $3,000 per kilowatt hour is on the higher side, Roberts said.

"Colorado citizens concerned about clean air, scenic vistas and our quality of life should be alarmed not only about this proposed coal-fired power plant but ambitious plans to build other plants in the Rocky Mountain region," said Pete Morton, an economist with the Wilderness Society. "If we get more coal-fired plants we will see increased pollution, smog and haze - all of which will make it more difficult to attract tourists and new businesses, as well as retain our high- quality work force."