Tracking the Valmont power plant

Last we knew: The Colorado General Assembly passed the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which required Xcel to cut emissions of nitrogen oxides at its Front Range coal-burning plants by 70 percent to 80 percent from 2008 levels by 2017.

Latest: Xcel filed a plan Friday to comply with the law. In the plan, Xcel announced it will close the coal-burning unit at Valmont by 2017, leaving its natural gas-burning generator in operation.

Next: The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will review the plan and the reactions of "intervenors" in the docket, such as the city of Boulder and Western Resource Advocates. A hearing on the plan will be held at the PUC in late October and early November. A final decision on the plan is expected in mid-December.

What the plan would do

Valmont Station in Boulder: The plant's 186-megawatt coal-burning unit will be shut down by 2017. Xcel's 43-megawatt natural gas generator will remain in operation.

Cherokee Station in Denver: There are now four coal-burning units at the Cherokee plant, which have a combined capacity of 717 megawatts. Two of the units will be shut down in 2011, one in 2017 and one in 2022. As the coal units go offline, they will be replaced with natural gas-burning generators that will have a combined capacity of 883 megawatts by 2022.


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Arapahoe Station in Denver: There are now two coal-burning units at Arapahoe. The smaller unit, which has a capacity of 45 megawatts, will be shut down in 2013. The second unit, which has a capacity of 111 megawatts, will be converted to a natural gas generator, also in 2013.

Pawnee Station in Brush, and Hayden Station in Hayden: The 505-megawatt coal-burning generator at Pawnee will remain in operation, but Xcel will add emission controls to cut down on nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide pollution. The two coal-burning units at Hayden, which have a combined capacity of 446 megawatts, will also get new emissions-control technology.

The Valmont power plant east of Boulder -- which first began operation in 1924 -- will burn its last trainload of coal by the end of 2017, if a new plan by Xcel Energy is approved by state regulators.

Xcel revealed a comprehensive plan to address emissions of nitrogen oxides from five of its Colorado coal-burning plants Friday afternoon. The plan -- which will cost the company $1.3 billion over 12 years -- lays out how Xcel will comply with the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Ritter in April.

The new law, which Xcel supported, is designed to help the Front Range meet stricter federal air quality standards that are expected to be put into place in the near future. The law calls for Xcel to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides -- which react in the atmosphere to form haze and ozone -- from Front Range coal-burning plants by 70 percent to 80 percent from 2008 levels by 2017.

"Over the next several years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require the state of Colorado to comply with a series of regulatory mandates unprecedented in the history of the Clean Air Act," Dick Kelley, Xcel Energy's chief executive officer, said in a statement. "We believe our proposal is the best way to meet new environmental requirements in a manner that preserves reliability and minimizes customer costs."

To comply with the law, Xcel evaluated over the summer whether to retire the coal-burning plants, fit them with new pollution-control technologies or re-power them with natural gas. In its final plan -- which the Colorado Public Utilities Commission must ultimately approve -- the company relies on all three strategies.

At Valmont, Xcel will shut down its one remaining coal-fired generator, which has been in operation since 1964 and which has a capacity of 186 megawatts. Xcel will not re-power the coal-burning unit with natural gas, but Xcel's existing 43-megawatt natural gas-burning generator at Valmont -- which was built in 1973 -- will remain in operation. Valmont also houses two 40-megawatt natural gas-burning generators that are owned by Southwest Generation.

Valmont Station employs 57 full-time staff members, but Xcel does not anticipate having to cut any jobs. Some employees will stay on to run the natural gas turbine, said Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz, and others can be moved to different facilities by the time coal burning ends at Valmont in 2017.

In Denver, Xcel plans to stop burning coal at its 717-megawatt Cherokee plant by 2022. The company will replace the coal-burning units with 883 megawatts of natural gas generation. Xcel also plans to close one of its two coal-burning units at its Arapahoe plant in Denver by 2013 and convert the other unit to natural gas.

Finally, Xcel's plan calls for retrofitting its Pawnee and Hayden power plants with "modern" emissions-control technology.

In Boulder, environmentalists, carbon-cutting advocates and the city's climate action plan staff cheered Xcel's general plans for Valmont, but most pointed out that they had not yet waded through the details outlined in the document, which is more than 150 pages long.

"Based on a preliminary review, it appears this filing is both what we had expected and hoped for," said David Driskell, executive director of community planning and sustainability for the city of Boulder.

Amy Guinan, who has helped organize several protests against the Valmont plant, said Friday evening that she was "very excited" about the news.

"I think that it's proof that when a community comes together around an issue and makes their voices heard, they can get something done," she said. "I'm very proud of Boulder for standing up for clean energy and demanding change."

But Guinan also said the work of Boulder residents who called for Valmont to be closed isn't done. She said it's important to make sure that the lost capacity is replaced by renewable sources in the future.

"We need to make sure that this is a transition to clean energy, as opposed to Boulder just saddling some other community with the responsibility of producing our black electrons -- of producing our power from a coal source somewhere else," she said.

Roger Singer, the Sierra Club's regional representative in Boulder, also had reservations about the plan.

"I would say that, overall, I'm happy with the direction that this plan is moving in, but I think there's some room for improvement," he said. "I still think that Xcel could push the timetable of this plan forward. Climate scientists tell us we need to act now to reduce the worst impacts of global warming. It would behoove all Coloradans to see this plan implemented even sooner."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 or sniderl@dailycamera.com.