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The Hayden Station coal-burning power plant is pictured at sunset Feb. 27, 2020, in Routt County. Xcel Energy plans to close the plant in Northwest Colorado by 2028. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The coal-fired Hayden Generating Station will close ahead of schedule, marking the latest in a steady stream of Colorado coal plant closures, Xcel Energy announced Monday.

The plant’s 44-year-old Unit 2 will close by the end 2027, and Unit 1, which came online in 1965, will be shuttered by the end of 2028. The two units provided 441 megawatts of generating capacity. The Hayden units were slated to close in 2030 and 2036.

Xcel’s move brings the total number of coal-fired units slated for earlier closure in the past 12 months to seven, spread across four different utility companies.

“The early closure of the coal plant is part of the company’s plan to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030 and ultimately deliver 100% carbon-free electricity to customers by 2050,” the company said in a statement.

There will be no layoffs among the 75 employees with the workforce reduction being managed through attrition, retirements and retraining, according to Xcel.

MORE: Anticipating a bust, the Colorado coal town of Craig gets an unexpected boost

“Hayden has been part of the Northwest Colorado community for 55 years,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy-Colorado, said in a statement. “We are committed to supporting our employees and the region as we move forward with our clean energy transition in Colorado. We have a long track record of successfully transitioning coal plants we’ve retired.”

The transition is being done in cooperation with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 111. “Our focus is to keep our members working while ensuring Colorado continues to maintain a safe and reliable electric grid,” union business manager Rich Meisinger said in a statement.

Xcel is the operator of the Hayden plant, but closure had to be agreed upon by the two co-owners: PacifiCorp, which serves about 1.9 million customers in California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming; and the Salt River Project, serving 2 million people in Arizona.

In a financial analysis submitted to Utah utility regulators in 2019, PacifiCorp estimated it could save $81 million by closing the Hayden plant, which is in Routt County.

An analysis done for the Sierra Club by energy consultant Strategen calculated that if Xcel were to retire the two Hayden units by 2023 and replace them with wind, customers would save $246 million.

“Xcel has recently gone from leader to lollygagger in Colorado’s transition off of coal to renewable energy so it’s nice to see our state’s largest utility recognize the financial, environmental, and health benefits of retiring Hayden early,” said Anna McDevitt, a representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado.

Erin Overturf, deputy director of the clean energy program at Western Resource Advocates, said Colorado utility regulators should consider ordering the closure dates to be moved up even more to save customers money. “Accelerated retirement dates and other tools and should be considered.”

In addition to financial considerations, companies are under regulatory pressure to cut their greenhouse gas emissions as part of Colorado’s statutory goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2026, and 50% by 2030.

Power plant emissions have been one of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide, the prime greenhouse gas.

“Colorado has a goal to reduce climate pollution 26% by 2025, and currently we’re not on track to achieve this science-based goal,” Overturf said in a statement. “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.”

In January 2019, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a power wholesaler supplying 43 rural electric cooperatives, including 17 in Colorado, announced the early closure of two coal-fired units at the Craig Station by 2030. A third Craig unit was already scheduled to close by 2025.

The total generating capacity at Craig, which is 33 miles west of the Hayden plant, is 1,283 MW. The Craig plant is in Moffat County.

The Platte River Power Authority announced on June 16 that it would close its 280 MW, coal-fired Rawhide plant north of Fort Collins by 2030, 16 years ahead of schedule.

Ten days later, the Colorado Springs Utilities board voted to close the 208 MW Martin Drake Power Plant, in downtown Colorado Springs by 2023, and the 207 MW Ray Nixon Power Plant, south of the city, by 2030.

MORE: Order to close three Colorado coal-fired power plants early reversed, regulators cite “incomplete” information

Xcel Energy is required by a law adopted in 2019 to file a clean energy plan with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to show how it will reach the required target of an 80% reduction from 2005 levels in carbon dioxide emissions for regulated utilities by 2030. The company said it will file its clean energy plan with the PUC in March.

Xcel Energy is already closing the Comanche 1 and 2 units in Pueblo — 660 megawatts or about one-third of the utility’s remaining coal fleet — by 2026.

Six Xcel coal plants were closed or retrofitted to natural gas by 2017, under the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act.

“In Colorado, Xcel Energy has already made significant strides reducing carbon emissions 42% since 2005,” Jackson said, “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.”

Xcel Energy, however, is left operating the only two large coal-fired plants in Colorado. The 505 MW Pawnee Generation Station in Brush is slated to run until 2041. Comanche 3, a 750 MW unit, is scheduled to run through 2069.

CORRECTION: This story was updated Jan. 5, 2021, at 10:38 a.m. to correct the location of the Hayden and Craig generating stations.

Special to The Colorado Sun
Twitter: @bymarkjaffe