Xcel Energy, partners to close northwest Colorado coal-fired power plant years ahead of schedule

Xcel Energy-Colorado and its partners in the Hayden Generating Station will close the coal-fired plant’s two units by 2028, years earlier than planned.

Xcel Energy, which owns the northwest Colorado plant with PacifiCorp and the Salt River Project, said in a statement Monday that Unit 2 of the plant will be retired by the end of 2027 and Unit 1 will be retired in 2028.

The original retirement dates for Unit 1 and Unit 2 were 2030 and 2036, respectively.

The plant’s early closure is part of Xcel Energy’s plan to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030 and deliver carbon-free electricity to customers by 2050, utility officials said.

However, environmentalists said Xcel Energy could make greater strides, environmentally and economically, by closing the plant even earlier.

“Colorado has a goal to reduce climate pollution 26% by 2025, and currently we’re not on track to achieve this science-based goal. Further reducing our reliance on coal between now and 2025 will be critical to the state’s ability to achieve its 2025 greenhouse gas reduction goal,” Erin Overturf of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates said in a statement.

The Sierra Club noted in a statement that Xcel’s announcement comes just weeks after the state Air Quality Control Commission reversed a decision to close three Colorado coal plants ahead of schedule. Xcel Energy and other utilities had asked the AQCC to reverse the decision.

Anna McDevitt, with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said it’s now good to see Xcel Energy — “the only Colorado utility with plans to keep coal burning past 2030” — shutter some of its coal plants. But she said Xcel still has work to do, pointing to its Comanche 3 coal plant near Pueblo, which she said is twice the size of Hayden and the largest climate polluter in the state.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission recently authorized an investigation into Comanche 3, which the agency has had operational and equipment problems since it was put in service in May 2010.

At the Hayden plant, Xcel Energy and the co-owners don’t anticipate laying off the approximately 75 employees. They said they will manage the transition through retirements, attrition and retraining workers in partnership with IBEW Local 111, the union that represents the workers.

“Hayden has been part of the Northwest Colorado community for 55 years. We are committed to supporting our employees and the region as we move forward with our clean energy transition in Colorado,” said Xcel Energy-Colorado President Alice Jackson.

Rich Meisinger, business manager of IBEW Local 111, said the union is working closely with the company to ensure that members “have ample employment opportunities” and to minimize the impacts on families and communities.

The utility will include details on the Hayden plant’s closure as well as a forecast of customers’ electricity needs in its electric resource plan, which will be heard by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in March.

Xcel Energy is the majority owner and operator of the Hayden Generating Station. It owns about 75% of the 179-megawatt Unit 1 and 37.5% of 262-megawatt Unit 2.

Jackson said Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, has reduced its carbon emissions by 42% since 2005. The company’s Colorado Energy Plan, approved by regulators in 2018, calls for increasing its use of renewable energy sources to 55% by 2026.

The utility’s fuel mix for Colorado for 2019, the latest information available, was 30% renewable energy: 25% wind, 4% solar and 1% other renewable energy. Xcel Energy spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said in an email that 37% of the energy came from natural gas and 33% from coal in 2019.

Aguayo said the data for 2020, which should be available at the end of February, will include a full year of production by the Cheyenne Ridge Wind Project, a 229-turbine facility in Cheyenne and Kit Carson counties.

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