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Larimer County coal-fired power plant will close 16 years early as Colorado speeds move toward renewable energy

Shut down of Rawhide Unit 1 leaves only a few big coal burning plants in Colorado without retirement dates as utilities feel pressure from customers, government to meet climate goals

Platte River Power Authority's Rawhide Energy Station north of Wellington, Colorado, generates electricity using coal, natural gas and solar. The company has pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. (Ed Kosmicki, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Platte River Power Authority will shut down the coal-burning unit at its Rawhide power plant in 2030, 16 years ahead of schedule, to try to make good on promises to provide its customers with 100% carbon-free electricity.

This leaves just a few large coal-fired electric plants in Colorado without retirement dates in the near future.

Power generators, under pressure from their customers, investors and governments to reach ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and make the switch to renewable energy sources, have begun to shut down coal-burning electric plants in Colorado or are planning for their retirements. 

MORE: More Colorado coal-fired power plants could be closing, but the timing depends on some complex deals

On May 28, dozens of Northern Colorado businesses petitioned PRPA to transition away from fossil fuels and power its service area with 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030. Today about 55% of PRPA’s power is coal-generated.

“The time has come for us to move toward a cleaner future with grid modernization and integration while maintaining our core pillars of providing reliable, financially sustainable and environmentally responsible energy and services,” Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell, who also is the power company board chairman, said in a prepared statement. 

A new retirement date for Rawhide’s 280 megawatt Unit 1 leaves only Xcel Energy’s 750-megawatt  Comanche 3 unit in Pueblo and its 505-megawatt unit at Pawnee near Brush without a closing date in the near future. Comanche is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2070.  

There are announced closing dates for two coal-burning plants at the Craig Generating Station, owned in part by Platte River, one in 2025 and the other no later than 2030. And PacifiCorp is pressing for the closure of two units in Hayden, one in 2030 and the other in 2036. That generating station is co-owned by Xcel Energy, PacifiCorp and the Salt River Project.

MORE: Tri-State Generation to close all of its Colorado, New Mexico coal-fired power plants and coal mines — 3 locations — by 2030

In May, an advisory group to Colorado Springs Utilities recommended the power company reduce its emissions by 80% by shutting down Martin Drake in the center of the city by 2023 and Ray D. Nixon, south of town, by 2030

Platte River Power Authority CEO Jason Frisbie said the utility is making plans to move workers at Rawhide Unit 1, to new roles after the coal-fired unit closes. Rawhide, located in Larimer County north of Wellington, also generates power using natural gas and solar. The 280-megawatt Unit 1 has provided energy for Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland since 1984.

A 2019 report by Strategen found that PRPA customers could save $22 million if the plant were to close by 2023 and be replaced by solar and power purchased from other generators. 

“The early retirement of the Rawhide coal-burning power plant is encouraging news,” said Elizabeth Meyers, owner of I d’Eclair! Pastry in Fort Collins, one of the businesses that signed the petition. “We can look forward to less toxic pollutants in our air. But our work is not done.”

For Colorado to reach its greenhouse gas goals and move away from coal, the state must replace them with renewable energy sources, even during a time where the COVID-19 pandemic has “wreaked havoc” on all aspects of the economy, said Sumer Shaikh, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club. 

“In 2018, clean energy jobs grew in Colorado by 4% whereas statewide, jobs grew by 2.5%, so again the potential for rebuilding Colorado’s economy after COVID-19, renewable energy is such a good pathway to do that,” she said.


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