Revitalizing Colorado’s Economy with Clean Energy Falls Short – Yet Again
By Tyler Linnebur
Colorado has embarked on an ambitious climate goal to reduce greenhouse emissions 90% by 2050 from 2005 levels. To achieve this target, the state has scheduled the closure of its coal plants, putting thousands of Coloradans who rely on the plants at risk. The state had an opportunity to fill the void created by coal plant closures, but instead Democrats killed an important bill in committee due to false narratives.
Senate Bill 24-039, titled Nuclear as a Clean Energy Resource and introduced by Senator Liston earlier this month, would have classified nuclear as a clean energy source, acknowledging the simple fact that nuclear energy is clean. Reclassifying nuclear energy as a clean energy source allows it to be considered for clean energy project financing at the city and county level and may be used by a qualifying retail utility to meet the state’s 2050 clean energy target. Unfortunately, political posturing outweighed the facts.
Of course, reducing emissions is critical, but closing major coal power plants has harmed communities that have come to rely on the jobs and tax revenues that coal provides. The Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo is set to close by 2031 and provides $31 million in property taxes which funds schools, libraries, and other public services. Nuclear can effectively replace essential revenue and jobs currently supplied by coal while providing clean, safe, and reliable energy.
Nuclear provides a unique opportunity for Colorado, which relied on coal for 40% of its electricity generation in 2021. Importantly, the Office of Nuclear Energy within the federal Department of Energy recently reported that nuclear power could replace 80% of coal power plants in the United States, offering good-paying jobs and local revenue during economic transition for communities across the state. The coal industry has a significant amount of existing talent that the nuclear industry is well positioned to utilize, especially since many of the functions needed to run a new nuclear plant have direct analogs in coal plants. The nuclear industry also offers the highest median wage across the energy sector, with an industry average of $41.32. In contrast, the averages for Coal, Wind, and Solar are $33.64, $25.95, and $24.48, respectively.
In line with Colorado’s Office of Just Transition, created in 2019 at the behest of Democratic Governor Polis, nuclear plants, specifically small modular reactors (SMRs) could support environmental justice in communities like Pueblo that have relied on coal by providing well-paying jobs and new tax revenue. A just energy transition uplifts frontline communities, and nuclear energy can provide critical job opportunities for coal-closure areas that may face economic hardships. As we make this unprecedented transition to clean energy, coal to nuclear provides a holistic solution: clean, reliable, affordable energy, as well as economic revitalization.
Biden’s Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said it well at the Wyoming Natrium reactor announcement in 2022 – “… We can lead fossil energy communities who have powered our country and our economy for decades. We can lead them into the clean energy future. They have powered our past; we want them to power our future….” We must work together to adopt an all-the-above energy strategy to move our state and country into the clean energy future.
Tyler Linnebur is a member of Steamboat Institute’s Emerging Leaders Council, as well the American Conservation Coalition Action and is based in Denver, Colorado. He testified in favor of SB 24-039, which would classify nuclear power as clean energy in the state of Colorado.
Brief: This op-ed touches on the testimony provided by Tyler Linnebur at the Colorado Senate hearing for SB24-039 in January 2024. The bill was designed to reclass nuclear energy as a clean energy source, qualifying it for financing on par with wind and solar and for meeting the state’s ambitious climate goals. Tyler focuses on the economic benefit of reclassing nuclear energy as clean, especially for the communities impacted by coal plant closures.