Clean Air Settlement Brings Clean Energy to North Denver Neighborhoods
Lawsuits at Soon-to-be-Retired Coal-fired Power Plant Turned into Opportunity
Mike Harris, University of Denver Sturm College of Law Environmental Law Clinic Director, (303) 871-7870
Denver—WildEarth Guardians and Xcel Energy today announced a settlement of a lawsuit asserting clean air violations at the Cherokee coal-fired power plant in North Denver that will direct nearly $450,000 to clean energy and green space projects for the neighborhoods most impacted by the plant’s air pollution.
“This is a victory for clean air, for the community, and for Colorado’s clean energy future,” said Nichols. “As we power past coal, it’s critical that we lay the groundwork for solar and energy efficiency to take root. That’s exactly what this settlement does.”
The agreement resolves a lawsuit filed in federal court in 2009 by WildEarth Guardians against Xcel Energy over the company’s alleged failure to monitor and limit emissions from the smokestacks of the 800 megawatt Cherokee coal-fired power plant. The suit was filed on behalf of Guardians by the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Environmental Law Clinic.
Since the suit was filed, Xcel Energy agreed to stop burning coal permanently at Cherokee by the end of 2017. The company has already retired two of the four units at the power plant and demolished one of the plant’s three smokestacks.
“To Xcel Energy’s credit, we are moving away from coal by leaps and bounds, but it’s critical that we make equal strides toward clean energy,” said Nichols. “Today’s agreement acknowledges the significant progress that Xcel Energy has made in retiring coal-fired power plants and the promise that clean energy holds for powering our communities and our State.”
In light of the progress made at Cherokee, WildEarth Guardians and Xcel Energy agreed to resolve their differences by directing resources to the North Denver neighborhoods of Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea. A legacy of mixed industrial development, much of it toxic, has presented challenges for these neighborhoods.
As part of the Settlement, Xcel Energy has agreed to provide $447,000 to Groundwork Denver, a third-party nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing about the sustained improvement of the physical environment through community-based partnerships and action.
Groundwork Denver will use the funds to complete energy efficiency projects for 142 homes in the North Denver neighborhoods of Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea and install solar panels on one or more public buildings in the neighborhoods. Additional funds will also be used to support the development of the 5.5 acre Platte Farm Open Space, a community natural area, including solar powered lighting on picnic shelters and along paths.
It is anticipated the projects will eliminate more than 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and save or produce nearly a megawatt-hour of electricity. The energy efficiency projects will save families nearly $200 annually while solar panel installation will generate more than $3,400 every year in savings.
“We are honored that WildEarth Guardians and Xcel Energy have chosen Groundwork Denver to manage these real, on-the-ground neighborhood improvements in North Denver, ” said Wendy Hawthorne, Executive Director of Groundwork Denver.
“This isn’t about whether or not Xcel Energy violated clean air laws, this is about moving Colorado and its communities forward,” said Mike Harris, Director of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Environmental Law Clinic. “It is truly a victory when two parties engaged in conflict can productively put their differences aside and put our health and environment first.”
The agreement will require review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice before it can be signed by U.S. District Court Judge, Brooke Jackson, who is presiding over the lawsuit. Once the agreement has been approved by the court, WildEarth Guardians will dismiss its lawsuit.
WildEarth Guardians is a west-wide nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to protecting and restoring wildlife, wild places, and wild rivers in the American West. As part of its Climate and Energy Program, Guardians works to advance the west away from fossil fuels to clean energy.
The University of Denver, the oldest private university in the Rocky Mountain region, enrolls approximately 11,409 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs.
For more information about Groundwork Denver, visit www.groundworkcolorado.org or http://www.facebook.com/GroundworkDenver, or contact Wendy Hawthorne, Executive Director, at 303-455-5600.