The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has rejected a coal industry front group’s efforts to intervene in Xcel Energy’s resource plan, after the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel and Colorado Energy Office highlighted an Energy and Policy Institute investigation showing that the group’s earlier efforts before the Commission were part of an effort by Wyoming’s coal industry to keep coal plants running.

In April, attorneys claiming to represent the “Coalition of Ratepayers” sought to intervene in Xcel Energy’s resource planning process before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Previously, the “Coalition of Ratepayers” had opposed Xcel Energy’s 2018 plan to replace two coal units at the Comanche coal plant with renewable energy. That plan attracted national attention because the utility received very low-priced proposals to build new wind and solar projects, below the costs of operating existing coal units. New data show that Xcel Energy’s competitive bidding process “secured even lower costs than power sector leaders previously thought,” UtilityDive reported last week.

The Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel, which represents residential, small business, and agricultural ratepayers in Colorado before the PUC, objected to the “Coalition of Ratepayers”’ motion to intervene, citing an Energy and Policy Institute investigation showing that those efforts in 2018 were actually part of a campaign by a front group for the state of Wyoming and coal mining companies to delay the closures of power plants that burn coal mined in Wyoming. The Colorado Energy Office joined the Office of Consumer Counsel’s objection.

In its response to the Office of Consumer Counsel and Colorado Energy Office, the “Coalition of Ratepayers” disputed the EPI investigation, by noting that the publicly available tax records cited by EPI showed only a portion of the funding provided by the coal front group, not the full amount spent on attorneys fighting to keep the coal units running. But the “Coalition of Ratepayers”’ response did not address the dozens of emails, obtained through public records requests, in which the coal industry front group’s executive director Randy Eminger provided regular, detailed updates to coal industry executives and Wyoming officials about the effort to keep the Comanche coal units running.

Those records were also reported by the Colorado Sun, Wyofile, Indianapolis Star, and National Public Radio, which looked at the Wyoming coal group’s efforts to keep coal plants running in other states beyond Colorado, including Arkansas, Indiana, and Oklahoma.

In one of his updates to potential funders in the coal industry, Eminger pleaded that “our Ratepayer Coalition will continue the fight – but we could really use your help! It should come as no surprise that [the] cost of regulatory attorneys and expert witnesses are expensive.”

That suggests that the attorneys and expert witnesses that urged the Colorado PUC to keep the Comanche coal units running – supposedly on behalf of the “Coalition of Ratepayers” – were actually paid by Eminger or one of his coal industry funders.

Indeed, in a presentation to the National Coal Transportation Association, Eminger presented that attorney and expert witness – Charles Griffey of Peregrine Consultants and Meghan Griffiths of Jackson Walker law firm – in a slide titled “Our Team.”

Similarly, when Eminger presented to a Wyoming Infrastructure Authority conference, he explained: “Meghan Griffiths is an excellent lead attorney for us. And we have Charles Griffey who is our technical expert.”

Griffey and Griffiths did not respond to questions from the Energy and Policy Institute about who paid for their efforts before the Colorado PUC in 2018 for the “Coalition of Ratepayers.”

The Colorado PUC rejected the “Coalititon of Ratepayers” motion to intervene on May 19.

Posted by Joe Smyth

Joe Smyth was a Research and Communications Manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.