Retiring Xcel CEO who spent $1 billion on Comanche 3: 'I'd be OK if there were never any more coal'

By David O. Williams
Real AspenAugust 20, 2011
“I'd be OK if there were never any more coal,” retiring Xcel Energy CEO Dick Kelly recently told the non-profit news site

Kelly, who's apparently moving from Minnesota (where Xcel is based) to Colorado (where Xcel is the state's largest electric utility), went on to question those in Congress denying the science behind global climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels.

“I think the science is pretty solid. Maybe we haven't communicated it well enough,” Kelly said. “But I think people do believe we need a change in the way we generate and use electricity. We've got to get off fossil fuels. The quicker the better.”

Dick Kelly

Counters MinnPost interviewer Don Shelby: “But, there are a lot of people in Congress who wouldn't agree.” That pretty much describes the four Republicans who make up Colorado's GOP majority in the House.

Kelly responds: “I know it. All they are worried about is the next two or six years when they run for reelection. They just keep kicking the can down the road.”

Critics in Colorado, however, say Kelly has engaged in some pretty solid can-kicking of his own, investing heavily in coal and not proceeding as quickly on alternative fuels as he could have.

True, Xcel is now the No. 1 utility in the nation for wind generation, recently procuring 200 proposed megawatts rejected by Boulder in a bid by Xcel to keep the city from forming its own municipal utility (something voters will decide in November). And Xcel is well ahead of the state-mandated target of 30 percent renewable energy generation by 2020 – one of the most aggressive renewable energy standards in the nation.

But on Kelly's watch the utility invested more than $1 billion on the new Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant in Pueblo – slated to churn out electricity (and heat-trapping emissions) until the year 2069. Xcel has steadily raised rates to pay for Comanche 3.

The state's largest and most ardently climate-change-denying rural electric co-op, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA), invested $366 million in Comanche 3, and one of the state's most progressive co-ops, Holy Cross Energy, chipped in another $100 million.

Leslie Glustrom of Boulder-based Clean Energy Action put the outgoing Kelly interview “in the vein of ‘I can't believe I ate the whole thing.' Burritos are only $3 mistakes and the indigestion lasts for a day. Coal plants are $1 billion mistakes and the ‘indigestion' lasts for decades.”

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