Colo.’s largest utility announces shutdown of coal plant

Source: By Miranda Willson, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Colorado’s largest utility said this week that it will retire a coal-fired power plant eight years ahead of schedule, accelerating the state’s transition away from the fossil fuel.

Xcel Energy said it plans to close both units of the Hayden Generating Station in northwestern Colorado by 2028 and late 2027, respectively. Co-owned by Xcel, PacifiCorp and the Salt River Project, the 441-megawatt plant’s two units were previously scheduled to shut down in 2030 and 2036.

Colorado aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half statewide by 2030 and by 90% by 2050, relative to 2005 emissions (Energywire, Oct. 1, 2020). Xcel is the only utility in the state that plans to continue operating coal plants past 2030, with one facility projected to remain open until 2070, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The Minneapolis-based utility, however, has pledged to reduce emissions by 80% by the end of this decade and to transition to entirely carbon-free electricity by 2050.

“In Colorado, Xcel Energy has already made significant strides reducing carbon emissions 42% since 2005, and we look forward to proposing a new, comprehensive energy plan early this year that continues our clean energy transition and delivers at least an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy-Colorado, said in a statement. “The retirement of Hayden is an important part of Excel Energy’s vision for a carbon-free electric system by mid-century.”

Xcel’s announcement of an earlier retirement date for Hayden came less than one month after the company and other utilities successfully lobbied Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission to reverse an earlier decision that would have forced several plants in the state to retire by 2028, according to the Sierra Club. Xcel and several other utilities had argued that the AQCC did not have the authority to mandate coal plant retirement dates, said Anna McDevitt, campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Colorado.

Michelle Aguayo, media relations representative at Xcel, said the company and other utilities had raised questions about the legality of the AQCC’s attempt to mandate early retirements through an EPA program, the Regional Haze program.

“Xcel Energy believes it is primarily the responsibility of the generating plant owner, subject to oversight by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, to determine resource decisions such as retirements and new resources,” Aguayo said.

While McDevitt said the AQCC’s reversal of its initial mandate establishes a concerning precedent, Xcel’s 2028 retirement date for Hayden is a welcome development.

“The bottom line is, this is good news. Xcel is feeling the pressure to retire coal,” McDevitt said.

Located in rural Hayden, Colo., the Hayden Generating Station employs about 75 people, none of whom is expected to be laid off when the plant closes, Xcel said. The utility and the other plant owners will “manage the transition through attrition, retirement and retaining employees” in coordination with a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers that represents the employees.

Finding replacement jobs for workers when fossil fuel infrastructure closes is becoming more difficult in Colorado, since there are fewer jobs today than in the past, said Rich Meisinger, business manager of IBEW Local 111. Nonetheless, Xcel is working with the union to help affected workers, he said.

“Their plan isn’t to lay anyone off, and my plan isn’t to allow that to happen,” Meisinger said. “There’s a lot of different options we’re looking at. It’s a large utility company, and there’s other gas-fired power plants people could move to, or they could start apprenticeships on the gas or electric side.”

Although environmental groups described the early retirement for Hayden as a good step, they also claim that the power station should be shut down even sooner to maximize cost savings for ratepayers.

An earlier retirement date could also bring the state closer to meeting emissions reduction targets as set by the governor and Legislature, said Erin Overturf, deputy director of Western Resource Advocates’ Clean Energy Program. As of early 2020, Colorado was not on track to meet its initial target of a 26% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, according to a February 2020 report conducted by energy and environmental consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Xcel is currently preparing an electric resource plan that will be assessed by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in March, the company said.