Xcel plans transition from coal to solar, wind, gas and storage in Colorado

Regardless of the delusional 19th-century energy ambitions of the Trump Administration, American utilities are increasingly closing “baseload” coal and nuclear plants and abandoning new projects as they move towards renewable energy and energy storage.

On the same day that Duke Energy Florida reached a settlement agreement under which it will finally abandon a mothballed nuclear project and instead build large volumes of solar, energy storage and EV charging networks, Xcel Energy also announced a plan to shutter coal-fired generation and open up a new competitive bidding process for up to 700 MW of solar and 1 GW of wind, as well as natural gas and energy storage.

Chiefly, under the “Colorado Energy Plan” Xcel plans to shutter the first and second units of the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo, Colorado by 2022 and 2025, respectively. These two together total 660 MW of capacity, but Xcel would keep its newer Unit No. 3 in service.

Few details on the request for proposal (RFP) for wind, solar, gas and storage were provided in an Xcel press release. Xcel describes it as an “all-source” RFP, and it is unclear if these resources will be competing against each other.

The gas-fired generation in this portfolio could complement a future of high levels of renewable energy, particularly wind, which is notable as both Colorado and nearby states are seeing increasingly high levels of wind on their grids. However it is unclear if Xcel will be seeking to build fast-start “peaking” gas plants, or the more common combined cycle gas turbines which are often used as “mid-merit” plants.

What is clear is that Xcel expects whatever combination of resources that come out of this to be cheap, and as part of its plan, the utility wants to reduce a rider on customer bills for renewable energy from the current 2% to 1%, which would not take effect until 2021 or 2022.

Unsurprisingly, Xcel wants to own much of the generation that comes online through this RFP, and the plan would set a utility ownership target of 50% of the renewables and 75% of gas-fired, energy storage or renewables with storage resources.

Additionally, the utility is seeking to build a new switching station for transmission for a Southern Colorado “energy resource zone”, which it says will help further develop renewable energy in rural Colorado.

In this plan, Xcel is backed by a large and diverse coalition which includes the staff of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the Colorado Energy Office, the state’s ratepayer advocate, the city of Boulder, independent power producers, labor, large energy consumers, and environmental and energy groups, including Vote Solar and Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA).

“We are pleased to support the efforts of Xcel Energy to close coal plants, reduce carbon emissions and move Colorado closer to a future where anyone can choose clean energy,” stated Vote Solar Program Director Rick Gilliam.

Xcel appears to be moving forward quickly with its plans for the RFP, which it plans to issue in the “next several days”, towards an expected filing of a recommended portfolio with CPUC in the first quarter of 2018. The utility anticipates a final decision on the recommended portfolio by the summer of 2018.