By Logan Smith

DENVER (CBS4)– Xcel Energy announced Monday plans to permanently shut down the coal-burning Hayden Generating Station in northwest Colorado. The plan calls for the first of the plant’s two units to be retired by the end of 2027 and the second at some point the following year.

Seventy-five workers are employed at the plant, which is jointly owned by Xcel, PacifiCorp and Salt River Project. Xcel is the majority owner.

The companies will manage the transition of the workforce in partnership with its union, the International Brotherhood of Electricians (IBEW) Local 11. The transition will include “attrition, retirement and retraining employees,” Xcel stated in its press release.

“We are working closely with the company to ensure our union members have ample employment opportunities to minimize impacts to them, their families and the communities we serve,” said Rich Meisinger, Business Manager of IBEW Local 111. “We’re very proud of the work they’ve accomplished and look forward to demonstrating what this valuable workforce can accomplish for Colorado’s energy future.”

Hayden’s Unit 1 and Unit 2’s original retirement dates were 2030 and 2036, respectively, according to Xcel. But the early closures were a part of the company’s recent commitment to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2030. Xcel hopes to ultimately deliver completely “green” electricity – from wind, solar, and hydraulic (water) and biomass sources – to customers by 2050.

The Hayden plant began generating electricity in 1965.

(credit: CBS)

Routt County Commissioners Tim Corrigan, Beth Melton and Doug Monger responded to the announcement in a joint statement:

“Coal has been a critical part of Routt County’s economy for several generations. While this news is not surprising, it will be a huge challenge for our community to replace the good-paying jobs and tax revenue of not only the Hayden Station, but the other coal businesses and indirect jobs in Routt and Moffat Counties that are likely to be impacted by this transition. We understand that due to market forces and a demand for renewable energy, Colorado, and companies like Xcel Energy, are moving away from coal-fired electricity plants. We also know that electricity will continue to be in demand. We mourn the loss of a source of good-paying jobs for families in Routt County, but we are pleased that Xcel Energy is committed to a transition that will see no layoffs. In their statement, they said, ‘Xcel Energy and its co-owners will manage the transition through attrition, retirement and retraining employees in partnership with IBEW Local 111, which represents the workforce.’ We applaud Xcel Energy for meeting with us regularly on a local transition plan. Xcel Energy continues to be a leader in solar, wind and hydro power and has stated that they want to ‘deliver 100% carbon-free electricity to customers by 2050’. We believe the loyalty and hard work of the employees at the Hayden station have shown to Xcel that they can both meet their goals and transition Hayden employees. We look forward to working with Xcel in the potential repurpose of the company’s assets and logistics toward mutual benefits for the community and company.”

(credit: CBS)

Environmental organizations responded favorably to the Xcel announcement but with renewed vigor for even earlier shut downs of remaining coal-fired plants.

“Coloradans can look forward to breathing a little easier later this decade,” stated the Sierra Club’s Anna McDevitt, “as the only Colorado utility with plans to keep coal burning past 2030 shutters some of its dirty, costly coal plants. Xcel still has work to do as the owner of the only two Colorado coal plants with no closure plans in sight, including Comanche 3 which is twice the size of Hayden and the largest climate polluter in our state.”

Members of the utility industry have resisted environmentalists’ calls for earlier closures due to the absence of replacement energy systems yet to be rolled out and turned on. Xcel will submit its plan for replacing the Hayden units’ output at a meeting with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in March.

The Hayden plant was not among of the chess pieces used last November by a nine-member citizen panel, the Air Quality Control Commission. That commission, formed as part of the Clean Air Act in 1990, called for the closures of other coal-burning plants near Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and Craig, Colorado. The commission suggested the utilities cease operating those plants by the end of 2028.

Environmentalists celebrated the decision.

Then the AQCC, after pressure mounted from the utilities, reversed course in December.

“I do this with great regret,” said AQCC member Jana Milford, a mechanical engineering and environmental engineering professor at CU-Boulder professor. “But I have to say that based on new information, I would like to reconsider the feasibility of transitions if the closure dates are moved up.”

Meanwhile, the state’s coal businesses wrestle with their future. Colorado is currently the 11th largest coal producer in the U.S.

“We produce the highest-depth, cleanest coal in the world,” president of the Colorado Mining Association, Stan Dempsey Jr., told CBS4 recently. “Do we find replacement markets or replacement uses for coal?”

 

Logan Smith