Xcel Energy’s chronically troubled Comanche 3 coal-fired power plant might be closed earlier than the 2034 retirement date in the utility’s proposed energy resource plan.
The fate of the plant in Pueblo is one of the issues Xcel Energy hopes to resolve with organizations and agencies involved in the proceedings on the plan. Discussions are looking at “the potential to further accelerate Comanche 3’s retirement date while ensuring system reliability and balancing the interests of affected workers,” according to a filing the company submitted Monday.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission postponed deliberations on the resource plan until April 26 to give people more time to talk.
The electric resource plan, submitted every four years to regulators, projects the amount of electricity the utility will need and the sources it will use.
A 2019 law requires utilities’ plans to chart a path to cut carbon dioxide emissions associated with the power it sells by 80% from 2005 levels by 2030 and 100% by 2050. That puts pressure on utilities to shut down their coal resources because coal produces more carbon dioxide than other fuels.
Xcel Energy has pledged to provide carbon-free electricity across the eight states it serves by 2050.
“As clunky as this process is, I’m pleased to have this ongoing dialogue with the parties prior to the completion of our deliberations,” said Eric Blank, PUC chairman. “This process involves multi-billion-dollar resource acquisitions that will shape our ability to have an affordable, reliable and increasingly de-carbonized energy system for years to come.”
Blank said it’s more important to get things right than to stick to a traditional approach.
In late 2021, Xcel Energy reached a partial agreement on several major issues with a number of organizations and agencies that are parties to the proceedings. But issues remain and certain parties, including environmental groups, didn’t sign the agreement.
A key sticking point is Xcel Energy’s plans for the Comanche 3 coal plant. The company originally set a closing date of 2040, but moved it up to Dec. 31, 2034, with plans to scale down operations starting in 2025.
But critics have pointed to the coal unit’s long history of equipment and operation problems and argue it should be closed as early as possible because of economic, reliability and environmental concerns. A PUC report in 2021 said the unit has averaged 91.5 days per year of outages over a decade and was out of commission for all but a handful of days in 2020.
The company notified the PUC on Feb. 6 that it was disassembling the generator at Comanche 3 after “a two-part event” damaged it and said it expects the repairs to be completed in late April.
Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental group, wants Xcel Energy to analyze the benefits of retiring Comanche 3 by the end of 2029.
“The recent breakdown of Comanche 3 reinforces our concern that it has not been a reliable generating resource,” said Gwen Farnsworth, a senior policy adviser for WRA.
In addition, it’s hard to imagine keeping the coal plant online for another 12 years “given what we’re already seeing as far as the impacts of climate change right here in Colorado,” Farnsworth said.
In a March 14 meeting, PUC members John Gavan and Megan Gilman also expressed concerns about planning to keep Comanche 3 open until 2034 and said an earlier retirement date should be considered.
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