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Boulder’s Fight Against Air Pollutants

When it comes to the environmental movement, one can approach issues from a variety of perspectives: one can deal with the things yet to come which pose a threat–i.e., carbon emissions, population growth, waste–or demolish the harmful models of the past, and transform them. In other words, animal rights activists can protest a fur factory, but what to do with all the furs already made? I can think of no better way to illustrate this paradox, than by looking at the recent dismantling of one of Boulder’s coal plants.

From Daily Camera’s new blog, Big Green Boulder:

BOULDER, Colo. — In January 1923, when Western Light and Power company announced plans to spend $4 million to build a coal-burning power plant on the shores of what was then Weisenhorn Lake east of Boulder, locals were delighted.

The Daily Camera called the decision to construct the Valmont power plant “the greatest thing for Boulder that has happened in years,” as it would bring good jobs and ensure that the town would not be overlooked as Colorado continued to grow.

Today the brick walls of the 85-year-old building are covered with creeping ivy, tall trees quietly line the power station’s drive — and Boulder residents are decidedly less delighted about having a coal plant in their back yard.

Four of the plant’s five coal-fired generators were retired in the mid-1980s, but one boiler stays lit, eating through a trainload of coal a week. When running full tilt, it delivers 186 megawatts of electricity to the grid — enough to power about 186,000 Colorado homes, according to the Governor’s Energy Office.

Lately, opposition to Valmont’s surviving coal-powered boiler, now owned by Xcel Energy, has heated up, stoked by concerns over global warming, toxic air pollutants and Boulder’s ability to meet its greenhouse gas-reduction goals.

“I feel as though the whole movement to go beyond coal has taken a giant leap forward in the last six months,” said Micah Parkin, who leads Boulder’s Beyond Coal Coalition, which is helping lead the fight to shut down Valmont. “Several things are all culminating to shake people up, to make people realize that something has got to be done.”

Even so, Xcel has been steadfast in its decision to keep Valmont running, pointing out that the plant is its most efficient in Colorado– meaning it turns a greater percentage of the energy trapped in coal into energy delivered to the grid than the company’s other coal plants. Valmont also has an excellent record of compliance with environmental regulations, officials say, and Xcel is already planning to retire two of its dirtier Colorado coal plants in the next five years.

But Boulder’s anti-coal activists are not deterred, and their attack on Valmont has taken many forms, including greater pressure on city officials to play hardball in their franchise negotiations with Xcel, demanding more electricity from renewable sources.

Most recently, opponents of Valmont are trying a new tactic, striking the power plant in what may prove to be its Achilles’ heel: its air permit, which is now up for renewal. […]

Read the entire article here.


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