Colorado’s largest electric cooperative no longer wants to own a piece of the state’s troubled Comanche coal plant

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

Colorado’s largest electric cooperative is giving up its ownership stake in the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo, citing “mismanagement and incompetence” by the plant’s operator, Xcel Energy.

CORE Electric Cooperative announced its departure from the power plant’s ownership group in a press release Tuesday. CEO Jeff Baudier said the plant’s newest coal-fired generator, which has been mired in ongoing breakdowns and costly repairs, has failed to live up to expectations since it came online in 2010.

“This is supposed to be a unit that would've provided for the majority of our power, and it hasn't come close to that over the times of its operation,” Baudier said in an interview.

In a separate statement, Baudier said Xcel had “driven this plant to dysfunction through mismanagement and incompetence.” 

In a statement, representatives for Xcel Energy said they disagreed with the cooperative’s claims and planned to dispute them.

The exit follows a lawsuit filed by the cooperative against Xcel Energy last year, accusing its Colorado subsidiary of breach of contract for failing to run Comanche to standards outlined in the operating agreement. A trial is scheduled to start October 2023.

CORE paid about $366 million to own a quarter of the electricity generated at Comanche, according to a complaint filed in Denver County District Court earlier this year. The cooperative gets 40 to 60 percent of its electricity from the generator during regular operations, Baudier said.

But the generator has performed poorly over the years and gone out of service for lengthy periods, including nearly all of 2020 and several months earlier this year, according to state regulators. CORE has argued in court filings that the generator's problems were due to Xcel’s “ongoing failures of operation and maintenance,” which it said deprived the cooperative of electricity and led to millions of dollars in repair costs.

Xcel is expected to close Comanche by 2030 as part of a settlement approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission this summer. CORE, which has a separate agreement to purchase wholesale electricity from Xcel Energy, will not renew it when it expires, Baudier told CPR News.

“We are currently negotiating new contracts with other suppliers for our power needs beyond 2026,” said Baudier. CORE provides electricity to nearly 170,000 members in a wide swath of the Front Range between Colorado Springs and Denver.

According to CORE officials, the ownership agreement for Comanche allows the cooperative to exit the ownership group. Xcel would then buy out CORE’s interest, they said.

Holy Cross Energy, another cooperative, owns 8 percent of the electricity from the Comanche generator, according to legal filings. The company sells all of that electricity to Colorado-based Guzman Energy, said Sam Whelan, vice president of power supply and programs for Holy Cross.

Whelan said that CORE's departure from the ownership group is not expected to affect Holy Cross's stake in the power plant.