Xcel doesn’t know when its newest coal-fired generator will be back in service, the company told state regulators

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Coal transported from a BNSF freight train piles up at the Comanche 3 Power Generating Station operated by Xcel Energy, southeast of Pueblo on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.

A generator in the state’s largest coal-fired power plant that broke down in January will be out of service indefinitely, according to operator Xcel Energy.

The state’s largest public utility, which has 1.5 million electric customers across the state, updated the Colorado Public Utilities Commission about the generator’s outage in a letter filed Friday afternoon. In the letter, Xcel’s regional vice president of regulatory affairs Brooke Trammell said most repairs would be finished by late April but that the company still did not know when it would replace retaining rings damaged in the failure.

“Due to this uncertainty, the Company does not yet have an expected date as to when [the generator] will be returned to service,” Trammell said.

The generator, the newest of the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo, has a history of breakdowns that regulators have attributed to poor maintenance and human error. At least $14 million in replacement power costs were passed on to ratepayers when the generator broke down in 2020, according to a Public Utilities Commission investigation. 

The commission last month ordered Xcel Energy to immediately provide a report on the most recent outage, which stemmed from two electrical issues on January 28. The commission rejected a request by CPR News to view a complete version of that report, which was redacted and confidential. The state Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate filed a motion to view the report given to the commission, arguing Xcel had “not sought extraordinary protection” for the documents.

In an annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month, Xcel told investors the generator was expected to be out of service for “approximately two months.” That replacement power would cost about $10 million, “assuming a two month outage, normal weather and current market pricing.”

Xcel workers shipped the generator’s rotor to St. Louis to be disassembled and repaired, Trammell said. 

Xcel expects its insurance will pay for extra costs from the most recent breakdown. The company told regulators it would not seek to recoup from customers any additional costs for replacing the power.