Colorado’s largest coal-fired power plant could close four years earlier than proposed, documents show

Xcel Comanche Power Station Pueblo
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Xcel’s Comanche power generating station outside Pueblo.

Updated 6:47 p.m.

The newest generator at Colorado’s largest coal-fired power plant would shut down by 2031, four years earlier than what was initially agreed upon by operator Xcel Energy and government agencies, according to a new version of a settlement proposal obtained by CPR News Friday.

Attorneys involved in regulatory proceedings determining the future of Xcel’s energy grid said negotiations were still happening Friday and would likely continue through the weekend. The revised settlement is expected to be submitted to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission early next week, said Ellen Kutzer, an attorney for Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group involved in the negotiations.

“We’re still working with Xcel and we’re still talking with them, but we have not technically signed off on any agreement yet,” Kutzer said. “It’s definitely very much still in flux.”

The current negotiations follow comments made by public utility commissioners, who said the newest unit of the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo should close earlier than 2035. The commission was scheduled to discuss the closing date at a hearing on April 18 before learning Xcel Energy was looking to rework parts of the settlement to garner more support from environmental groups and state agencies.

Public Utilities Commission spokesperson Becky Quintana declined to comment and said a new settlement agreement had not yet been filed.

"We respect the legal process of these ongoing settlement negotiations and can’t comment further. We are grateful to all the parties who are working side-by-side with us in the ongoing discussions as we stated to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Monday, April 18, 2022," Xcel spokesperson Michelle Aguayo said.

The updated settlement agreement lists commission staff, the Colorado Energy Office and Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate, the city and county of Pueblo and labor groups. It does not include environmental groups involved in the proceeding, including Western Resource Advocates and the Sierra Club.

In addition to speeding up the retirement of what would be Xcel’s last remaining coal-fired power plant, the updated settlement — if approved — would cut the utility’s carbon dioxide emissions by half of its 2005 levels by 2024 and by 65 percent by 2027.

Keith Hay, the director of policy for the Colorado Energy Office, and Joe Pereira, deputy director of the Utility Consumer Advocate office, said Friday they could not comment on the discussions.

The Comanche Generating Station is one of the state’s largest individual sources of greenhouse gas emissions, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Its newest generator has broken down several times, including for a period extending throughout 2020, according to the Public Utilities Commission. 

The generator most recently went offline on Jan. 28 due to an electrical problem. Xcel told the commission it was unsure when it would return to service.

CPR climate and environment reporter Sam Brasch contributed to this report.