Xcel files plan to cut 900 megawatts of coal-fired electrical power

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric power utility, today filed a plan with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that will ensure the Minneapolis-based company complies with the new Clean Air Clean Jobs Act aimed at drastically reducing coal-fired power plant emissions.

According to an Xcel press release, highlights of the plan include:

• Retirement of 900 megawatts of coal generation at Xcel’s Valmont (186 MW) and Cherokee (717 MW) power plants by the end of 2017 and the end of 2022, respectively;
• Repowering of Xcel’s Cherokee power plant with efficient, natural gas generation of 883 MW. The company also will switch to natural gas generation at the 111 MW Arapahoe unit four.
• Retrofitting about 950 MW of coal-fired generation at the Pawnee (505 MW) and Hayden (446 MW) power plants with modern emission control technology.

Gov. Bill Ritter helped push through the landmark bill as part of his “New Energy Economy,” dramatically reducing nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions from aging coal-fired power plants in order to comply with expected federal regulations in coming years.

“Over the next several years, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency will require the state of Colorado to comply with a series of regulatory mandates unprecedented in the history of the Clean Air Act,” said Dick Kelly, Xcel Energy chairman and CEO. “We believe our proposal is the best way to meet new environmental requirements in a manner that preserves reliability and minimizes customer costs.”

Xcel supported and helped craft the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act, which was opposed by the state’s coal-mining industry but had the backing of natural gas producers. Natural gas burns about 50 percent cleaner than coal. The bill also had the support of numerous statewide environmental groups.

“With Xcel’s filing today, Colorado has moved one step closer towards cleaner air and improved public health,” said John Nielsen, energy program director with Western Resource Advocates. “While we need to look closely at the details of the plan, it is clear that Xcel is taking seriously the need to replace Colorado’s aging coal-burning power plants with solutions that reduce pollution and strengthen our economy.”

Clean Air Clean Jobs was seen by some lawmakers as legislation taking sides in support of one form of energy over another, but others supported it because it was a proactive response to looming EPA regulation and potential federal climate change legislation.

“Today we sit at a real crossroads,” said Pam Kiely, program director with Environment Colorado. “But instead of continuing to try to make 19th century solutions work to meet 21st century energy challenges, we are taking bold steps to make a fundamental shift in how we power our future.”

According to Xcel, the cost of the plan, if accepted by the PUC, would be $1.3 billion in new construction over the next 12 years. The company predicts a savings of approximately $225 million compared to traditional retrofitting of the plants with emission controls. Xcel officials say the savings would be more than $950 million if there is federal regulation that places a price on carbon dioxide emissions.

“Today marks the first big step toward enacting the historic Colorado Clean Air Clean Jobs Act,” Ritter said in a release. “We are once again showing the nation how Colorado’s New Energy Economy is creating jobs, providing affordable and reliable energy, and improving our air quality for generations to come.”