A bill being considered by the Colorado Senate (HB 1160) would make coal mine methane (CMM) gas a renewable source of electricity generation under the state’s renewable energy standard (RES).

The legislation, which passed the state Assembly, was sponsored by state Rep. Randy Baumgardner and is being sponsored in the state Senate by a renewable energy advocate state Sen. Gail Schwartz. The bill champions the global climate change advantages of capturing methane gas from active and inactive coal mines throughout the state.

CMM is distinguished from coalbed methane (CBM) in that it comes from gas vented from working or abandoned mines; CBM is extracted from the seams between unmined coal. Venting of the CMM is necessary for mine safety, but it adds to unwanted global carbon emissions unless it is captured and used to produce energy.

Generating even relatively small amounts of electricity using the coal mine-based gas has an impact in cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to an energy analyst who spoke to the Denver Post. Just 5 MW produced from CMM at a cost of $10 million would offset more carbon than all of the solar installed in Colorado in 2010, according to energy analyst Randy Udall.

HB 1160 would encourage more capture of the GHG emissions from coal mines, and it specifically designates the collection of the mine gas as GHG mitigation. It would limit the renewable credit designation to power plants of 30 MW or less using the coal mine methane gas as their principal fuel.

Critics of the proposal, however, have argued that traditional renewable energy resources — solar and wind particularly — would be disadvantaged by making this addition to the RES-qualified energy sources. The Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is opposing the bill contending that it is too open-ended and is counter to ongoing efforts to site more solar and wind projects in the state.

The state’s lone CMM marketer Vessels Coal Gas, which has one plant operating in Pennsylvania, said the legislation is needed in Colorado to make the business economically viable. The company sees the CMM generation competitive with renewables, but not necessarily with traditional natural gas-fired generating plants.

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