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A view of the Comanche 3 plant
The Comanche 3 generating unit at Xcel Energy's Comanche power plant in Pueblo is shown in this March 1, 2021 photo. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s largest electric cooperative is seeking to pull out of its stake in Xcel Energy’s troubled Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant and recoup its investment in the unit.

The CORE Electric Cooperative, serving 172,000 members in suburban and rural areas from south of Castle Rock to north of Aurora, already has a multimillion dollar lawsuit against Xcel Energy’s subsidiary, Public Service of Colorado, alleging mismanagement  of the power plant. The suit was filed in 2021.

“This is part of the lawsuit,” said Amber King, a spokeswoman for CORE, which was previously known as the Intermountain Rural Electric Association. “This is the next step.”

CORE has a 25% non-operating ownership in the $1 billion Comanche 3 unit. The 750-megawatt unit is the largest coal-fired plant in the state and is slated to close by 2031.

When Comanche 3 is in full operation CORE receives about half its electricity from the unit. But in 2020 due to Comanche 3 outages, CORE said it got zero electricity from the unit.

“Under the project agreements, CORE has the right to withdraw, and PSCo must buy out CORE’s interest,” the co-op said in a statement.

The value of CORE’s quarter-share is still to be determined, King said.

Xcel Energy said in a statement that the company disagrees “with CORE’s claims and expect to address them through the legal process. Generation at Comanche 3 is very important for all customers and we value all our partners.”

Since it went online in 2010, Comanche 3 has been dogged by operational, equipment and financial problems, including issues with steam tubes, valves and retaining rings.

A 2021 investigation by Colorado Public Utilities Commission staff found that the plant had suffered more than 700 days of unplanned shutdowns. The unit was hampered by poor design and maintenance, the report said.

Since the PUC report was issued the plant has logged more than 125 days of unplanned shutdowns.

In its lawsuit alleging breach of contract, CORE said that as a result of the shutdowns it was forced to buy replacement electricity from Xcel Energy for $38.5 million, about $20 million more than the co-op’s anticipated cost of Comanche 3 electricity.

“Systemic failures by PSCo to prudently operate Comanche 3 since it came online in 2010 have severely impacted our commitment to providing affordable, reliable power to our member-owners,” CORE CEO Jeff Baudier said in a statement.

“Despite every effort by CORE to be heard, PSCo has ignored our rights and driven this plant to dysfunction through mismanagement and incompetence. This situation is untenable, and CORE must move on to forge our clean, reliable and affordable energy future,” Baudier said.

Mark Jaffe

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @bymarkjaffe