Xcel Energy’s troubled Comanche 3 coal plant down again; regulators want to know why

By Judith Kohler. Published in the Denver Post, February 28, 2022

Link to the original article 

The chronically troubled Comanche 3 unit at Xcel Energy’s coal-fired plant in Pueblo is out of commission again and state regulators want to know the cause, the cost of the repairs and when the plant will be back online.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has opened an investigation and has directed Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, to submit a report as soon as possible. The company notified the PUC on Feb. 6 that it was disassembling the generator at Comanche 3 after “a two-part event” damaged it.

“Crews are currently working to assess the extent of the issue and begin the repairs needed. The company will cover the potential incremental costs of any additional replacement energy needed to serve our retail customers,” Xcel Energy spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said in a statement.

Xcel Energy has said that Comanche 3 is a valuable part of its system, but a PUC report in 2021 painted a picture of a chronically malfunctioning unit since it started operating in 2010. The report said the unit averaged 91.5 days per year of outages over a decade and was out of commission for all but a handful of days in 2020 because of equipment malfunctions, including damage to the turbine and generator.

Comanche 3’s construction and operating costs were higher than projected, the PUC said. The upfront capital cost projection for Comanche 3 was $680 million, but wound up being $784 million.

Xcel Energy’s date for shutting down Comanche 3 is a point of contention in negotiations over the utility’s proposed new electric resource plan. The company has proposed closing the plant by 2035, five years earlier than originally planned, in the effort to meet state goals for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and moving to more renewable energy sources.

Critics of the proposal, including environmental groups, say Comanche 3 should be shuttered earlier in light of its ongoing problems and to more quickly cut climate-changing emissions.

Xcel Energy proposes closing the Comanche 1 unit this year and Comanche 2 in 2025.