Colorado Utility Will Close Coal Plant 16 Years Early

A Colorado-based electric utility owned by the four communities it serves announced it will close its remaining coal-fired plant by the end of the decade, a facility that had a planned retirement date of 2046.

The Platte River Power Authority on June 16 said the 280-MW Unit 1 at its Rawhide Energy Station near Fort Collins, Colorado, will be taken offline by 2030. Platte River over the past 18 months has studied how to replace generation from Unit 1, after the utility’s board approved a Resource Diversification Policy in December 2018. That measure called for the utility to have a 100% non-carbon energy mix by 2030.

The plant employs about 100 workers.

“Together with our owner communities, we are taking the next steps toward our energy future,” said Jason Frisbie, general manager and CEO of Platte River, in a statement Thursday. “Although circumstances associated with the coronavirus prevent us from making this announcement in alignment with our current IRP process, we need to continue moving forward to reach our Resource Diversification Policy’s 100% noncarbon goal.”

“Rawhide Unit 1 has served us extremely well for the past 36 years,” said Wade Troxell, the mayor of Fort Collins and chair of the Platte River board. “But the time has come for us to move toward a cleaner future with grid modernization and integration while maintaining our core pillars of providing reliable, financially sustainable and environmentally responsible energy and services.”

Solar, Wind Part of Future Energy Mix

Platte River has said it is studying its future energy mix as part of its integrated resource planning process. The utility’s next Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is on hold because public and stakeholder meetings are not able to be held due to the pandemic. However, Platte River executives said they needed to announce the Rawhide closure now to support state regulatory timelines and the utility’s move toward non-carbon generation.

The coal-fired Unit 1 at the Rawhide Energy Station near Fort Collins, Colorado, entered service in 1984. It was named a POWER Top Plant in 2008. Courtesy: Platte River Power Authority

Platte River added 30 MW of new solar power generation capacity in 2016 when it brought the Rawhide Flats Solar facility online, although that installation was not part of the utility’s previous IRP. The utility also has signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) for 225 MW of wind power from a facility in Wyoming, along with a PPA for 22 MW of generation from the Rawhide Prairie Solar project operated by Arizona-based DEPCOM Power. That solar facility, which also includes 2 MW of battery storage, is scheduled to come online this year.

The utility also has said it is negotiating another PPA for as much as 150 MW of new solar generation.

Unit Entered Operation in 1984

Rawhide Unit 1 came online in 1984, and was long considered the utility’s leading source of electricity for the four towns of Fort Collins, Estes Park, Longmont, and Loveland. The plant received a POWER Top Plant award in 2008, and consistently ranked among the nation’s most-reliable power plants, with an equivalent availability factor of 97.28% during its lifetime.

The plant also has been called one of the most-efficient coal-fired plants in the Western U.S., and has ranked among the 10 units nationally with the lowest emissions. The plant when built—construction began in 1979—featured what were considered state-of-the-art emissions controls, long before regulatory mandates forced other coal-fired plants to install such equipment.

“Unit 1 has outperformed nearly every other coal plant of its type in the nation and that is a testament not only to its design but also to the people who run it,” said Frisbie, whose career started at the plant. He later became plant manager, then ascended to COO of Platte River, eventually serving as general manager and now CEO. “It performs so well because all of the 100 skilled professionals who work there take a great deal of pride in the facility and in the jobs they do.”

Platte River by year-end will generate more than half its electricity from wind, solar, and hydropower. The utility also has five natural gas-fired units at the Rawhide site, including four 65-MW units and a single 128-MW generator, which will continue to operate. Platte River also has an ownership interest in the coal-fired Craig Generating Station in northwest Colorado, which will end with the retirement of Craig’s Unit 1 in 2025, and the retirement of Unit 2 (and also Craig Unit 3) by 2030.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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