Post should have reported view that plan to convert coal plants will create jobs

If you’ve ever looked at submissions of testimony for a PUC hearing, you know they can fall on the obscure side of things.

And if you’re a reporter covering a hearing, you want to spotlight issues that are understandable and relevant.

Jobs fall into the understandable and relevant category, given that the Great Recession just ended but you’d never know it.

So when The Denver Post’s Steve Raabe was reviewing testimony for a short  Sept. 18 story on the PUC’s hearing about Xcel Energy’s plan to convert coal-burning plants to natural gas, it’s natural that the Colorado Mining Association’s submission on jobs caught his eye.

“There are a wide range of intervenors before the PUC in this case, and much of the testimony they filed deals with relatively narrow subjects,” he emailed me in response to a question about his story. “The issue of jobs, however, is one that I think warrants attention.”

So he included these two sentences to his piece:

Adopting the plan could produce Colorado job losses of 30,000 to 120,000, [the Colorado Mining Association’s Roger] Bezdek said, from coal mining and a ripple effect on other industries. The testimony did not specify how it arrived at that total.

I’m really glad Raabe included sentence number two above, given that he wrote sentence number one.  But the question is, should he have written sentence number one at all, given the information in sentence number two?

In other words, since we don’t know if Bezdek’s jobs figures had any basis in reality, should Raabe have simply picked something else to report in his story, even though jobs are a hot-button issue these days?

I think Raabe should have passed on Bezdek’s employment numbers, until their origin was more clear. And, especially since jobs are such a senstive issue, Raabe should have at least reported job figures from the folks who support Excel’s conversion plan.

According to a study paid for by Xcel Energy and conducted by the LEEDS School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Xcel’s “preferred” conversion plan would generate an average of 1,250 jobs from 2010 to 2026. The process used for determining this employment figure is cited.

Raabe explained his thinking on the story to me:

“From a timing standpoint, this was a difficult story to cover,” Raabe emailed me. “As you may know, the PUC often sets a Friday 5 p.m. deadline for filings in various dockets. And given the nature of procrastination, most of the filings came in late Friday. There literally were thousands of pages of testimony filed, and I didn’t have the time to examine it all. But I looked at all of the filings that I thought would be potentially relevant, and I did not see any testimony — other than Bezdek’s — that addressed the issue of jobs. I was not aware of a source that I could have reached on short notice Friday evening that could have commented on, or refuted, Bezdek’s testimony on jobs.” 

Raabe’s point about deadline pressure is clearly valid. It took me hours to track down and clarify the job figures I got–and I knew people to turn to.

Raabe also pointed out that PUC hearings on the testimony filed Friday are scheduled for October and November. The LEEDS study was submitted as testimony to the PUC.

So there will be plenty of opportunities to report in more detail on jobs impact of Xcel’s plan–and to confirm that Bezdek’s figures can be substantiated somehow. Bezdek did not return my email asking about this.

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