Xcel gets green light from Colorado for $2.5 billion clean energy plan

Xcel Energy's Comanche coal-fired power plant stands just southeast of Pueblo. (The Chieftain/file)

Xcel Energy Inc. submitted a plan to Colorado regulators Wednesday seeking approval of a $2.5 billion program to transform electricity generation in the state, turning away from coal and natural gas and relying more heavily on renewable energy.

The proposed Colorado Energy Plan (CEP) by the state’s largest electricity provider, with 3.1 million customers in Colorado, would add 1,100 megawatts (MW) of wind power, 700 MW of solar resources, and 225 MW of energy storage tied to solar projects.

The CEP also would close coal-fired turbines generating 660 MW at the Comanche Station in in Pueblo about 10 years ahead of its current schedule and hold steady the utility’s 380 MW of natural gas-fired turbines, at a time many utilities are still adding natural gas.

Several large coal-fired plants would, however, continue to operate in the state.

The result, the plan says, would be that by the year 2026, 55 percent of Xcel’s electricity would come from renewables and emission levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide will have dropped 60 percent from 2005 levels. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions, linked to ozone pollution, would dropped 90 percent.

Xcel also estimates that will will create overall savings to customers of about $213 million.

> RELATED: The cost of cutting coal — Xcel is backing away from coal power, but who pays?

The CEP was proposed by Xcel in 2017 and drew support from environmental and business groups, independent power producers who sell electricity to Xcel,unions and consumer advocates. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission gave Xcel approval to put together a full-scale plan in March.

“Xcel’s Colorado Energy Plan is a true testament to how fast the cost of clean energy is dropping. This plan makes clear that we can power our communities with reliable, affordable, and clean power,”  Zach Pierce, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado, said in a statement.

The question of paying for the retirement of the coal-fired units is being considered in a separate case before the PUC.

Xcel said it is prepared to make investments in eight counties with the wind investment going to the northeast and eastern parts of the state and 500 MW of solar and battery storage projects in the southern half of the state. The remaining solar would be placed in the northern and western parts of the state.

Counties targeted for projects include Morgan, Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Park, Pueblo and Weld.

“Our recommended plan secures long-term and low-cost renewable power, stimulates economic development in rural Colorado, and substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions – all at a savings to customers,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy Colorado, said in a statement. “It is a solid plan that moves Colorado forward, and we are excited to present it for the commission’s consideration.”

Pueblo would see the loss of jobs and tax base with the closing of the two Comanche units, but Xcel said that the plan would offer “a beneficial path forward for Pueblo County.”

The county would be the site of a 525 MW solar project with 225 MW of battery storage and also a new switching station for a southern Colorado transmission “energy resource zone” to help foster the further development of renewable generating resources in rural Colorado.

Xcel had initially sought to own 50 percent of the new generating capacity, but under the proposed plan will own just 27 percent of the renewable resources and 58 percent of the natural gas generation.

“We believe the proposal to retire coal plants and replace them with a combination of wind and solar energy and battery storage reinforces Colorado’s position as a national leader in clean energy,” said Erin Overturf, an attorney with the environmental policy group Western Resource Advocates. “Xcel’s plan would significantly reduce air pollution in our state … and create clean renewable energy jobs in Colorado communities.”

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