By Denver Business Journal

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday denied requests by Coloradoâ¿¿s coal industry to halt plans to convert several Front Range coal-fired power plants to natural gas, through the controversial Clean Air-Clean Jobs law former Gov. Bill Ritter signed in 2010.

The commissioners in December approved a plan for Xcel Energy Inc. (NYSE: XEL) to close several Front Range coal-fired power plants, which produce about 900 megawatts of electricity, by the end of 2017 and use natural gas instead. Two other coal plants â¿¿ the Hayden plant in northwest Colorado and the Pawnee plant in Brush â¿¿ will get new equipment designed to cut emissions.

The coal industryâ¿¿s representatives â¿¿ including the Colorado Mining Association, Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU) and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity â¿¿ have argued that switching from coal to natural gas will cost jobs in the mining industry and lead to higher electricity prices. They asked the commission to reconsider its December decision.

Wednesday, the commission reaffirmed the conversion plans and the 2017 deadline. It did grant Xcel flexibility on timing for work at individual plants â¿¿ as long as it met the deadline, said PUC spokesman Terry Bote.

Supporters of the law say closing coal plants is needed to improve air quality, reduce ⿿regional haze⿝ and get a head start on new, tighter air-quality regulations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue in coming years.

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