Xcel Energy plans to retire two coal-fired plants in Pueblo, increase renewables

Xcel Energy took a big step away from coal on Tuesday, announcing an agreement to retire two of its three coal-burning units at the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo while adding substantially more wind, solar and natural gas generation to its electric portfolio.

Xcel Energy will request competitive bids before the end of the year for 1,000 megawatts of additional wind, 700 megawatts of solar and 700 megawatts of natural gas power generation sources.

Pending regulatory approval, and assuming those bids reduce costs, it will replace 660 megawatts of coal-generated power from Comanche Unit 1, built in 1973, and Comanche Unit 2, built in 1975. It will continue to operate the newer and cleaner coal-fired Unit 3, which came online in 2010 and has a capacity of 750 megawatts.

“It is really about the economics,” said David Eves, president for Xcel Energy in Colorado, of the retirements, which will take place before the end of 2022 and 2025.

The coal plant retirements and addition of cleaner energy sources should by themselves achieve half of the 26 percent reduction in carbon emissions levels that Gov. John Hickenlooper requested under an executive order in July by 2025, Eaves said.

Retiring the two coal plants, besides reducing emissions and electricity costs, also will free up capacity on the power grid to handle the new generation sources. As part of the transition, Xcel is seeking approval for a new switching station near Pueblo.

The coal burned in the two Comanche units comes from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which will limit the impact on West Slope mines. About 90 utility jobs at Comanche could be eliminated and local governments face a reduction in property taxes, Eaves said.