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Colorado Springs will shut down its two coal-fired plants by 2030. Now it’s time for Xcel to do the same, environmentalists say.

Coal-burning turbines at Martin Drake will be temporarily replaced with natural gas units as Colorado Springs Utilities builds new electric transmission lines

The Martin Drake Power Plant in Colorado Springs. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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The Colorado Spring Utilities board on Friday voted to close one of its coal-fired plants in 2023 and the other in 2030 – leaving Xcel Energy, the state’s biggest electricity provider, with the few remaining large coal-fired plants in the state slated to run beyond 2030.

Martin Drake Power Plant, in downtown Colorado Springs, will close by 2023 and the Ray Nixon Power Plant, south of the city, will close by 2030. Natural gas turbines will temporarily be placed at the Drake site to provide power until new transmission lines can be built.

“This is a historic decision for the future of our utility and this city,” Utilities board chairwoman Jill Gaebler said in a statement.

MORE: Colorado Springs has big plans for its downtown. But first the city must deal with the Martin Drake Power Plant.

On June 16, the Platte River Power Authority, which serves northern Colorado cities, announced it would close its coal-burning Rawhide Power Plant in 2030, 16 years earlier than previously scheduled.

In January, the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a wholesale power provider to 43 rural electric operatives in four states, including 18 in Colorado, will close two units at its plant in Craig by 2030. A third unit is already set to shut in 2025.

These scheduled closures leave only Xcel Energy, which serves 3.2 million people in the state, with plants with retirement dates past 2030.

The Pawnee Generating Station, a 505-megawatt coal-fired plant, in Brush, which came online in 1981, is scheduled to retire in 2041 and the Unit 3 at the Comanche Generating Station, in Pueblo, which came online in 2010, is slated for closure in 2070.

The Hayden Generating Station, in Hayden, has two units, one unit dating back to 1965, with scheduled closures in 2030 and 2036.

Xcel Energy is the majority owner in the Hayden plant. PacifiCorp, which serves about 1.9 million customers in California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, is a fractional owner in Hayden and Craig plants and has called for closure by 2030.

In a financial analysis, PacifiCorp identified the Craig and Hayden plants as among the most expensive in its portfolio offering $29 million in savings in closing Craig and $81 million in savings at Hayden.

“In Colorado, we’ve closed three coal plants and transitioned another to natural gas since 2010 and have reduced our carbon emissions 42% since 2005,” Michelle Aguayo, an Xcel spokeswoman, said in an email. ” We’re also investing in renewable energy with 30% of our energy mix coming from these carbon-free sources in 2019.”

“We’re currently developing a new clean energy plan that we’ll propose to the state next year,” she wrote. “This plan will evaluate a wide range of options, including coal-plant retirements.”

In 2018, Xcel Energy said it would cut its carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050 across the eight Western and Midwestern states it serves.

The utility also received approval in 2018 from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for a $2.5 billion plan to add 1,110 MW of wind generation, 700 MW of photovoltaic solar and 275 MW of energy storage.

Xcel Energy’s Comanche Generating Station, shown here in a March 5, 2020, photo, is the largest power plant in Colorado. The steam-driven, coal-fueled plant, located in Pueblo, generates 1,410 megawatts of power. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The plan also will close two older units at the Comanche station by 2026, 10 years ahead of schedule. Between 2011 and 2019 Xcel Energy closed six coal-fired units.

“Xcel was one of the first utilities to make the commitment to to make a commitment to 80% carbon reductions by 2030, but now it’s the only utility with plans to operate coal plants in Colorado past 2030,” Anna McDevitt, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado, said in a statement. “Cleaning up the electric sector is essential to meeting Colorado’s greenhouse reduction goals, and the state’s largest utility will need to do its part. After today, all eyes are on Xcel Energy and its Colorado coal plants.”


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