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A cleaner coal

Craig Station planning $400 million in emissions controls

A state environmental official says new emissions controls at Colorado’s power plants will both reduce haze and improve public health. Michael Silverstein, with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, helped negotiate the plan with the state’s power plants aimed at reducing regional haze. “It was designed to be measurable by the human eye,” Silverstein said. Silverstein said Hayden Station was a “very key facility” during negotiations of the regional haze plan because of its proximity to national parks and wilderness areas. Craig Station, which generates 1,303 megawatts of electricity, was also part of the plan. Silverstein said the emissions controls will reduce both nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide, the two pollutants that contribute the most toward regional haze. The $400 million project at Craig Station calls for the installation of two selective catalytic reduction systems. One needs to be installed by December 2017 and the other by August 2021. A selective non-catalytic reduction system will be installed by December 2017. “As with most compliance and other operational expenses, the cost will be borne largely by the electricity customers who receive their power from Craig Station,” Craig Station spokesman Drew Kramer said.

A piece of Routt County’s coal industry is undergoing a major addition.

Parts were trucked into the Hayden Station power plant, and it took more than a month to assemble a massive crane, the top of which is higher than the largest smoke stack.

Craig Station planning $400 million in emissions controls

A state environmental official says new emissions controls at Colorado’s power plants will both reduce haze and improve public health.

Michael Silverstein, with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, helped negotiate the plan with the state’s power plants aimed at reducing regional haze.

“It was designed to be measurable by the human eye,” Silverstein said.

Silverstein said Hayden Station was a “very key facility” during negotiations of the regional haze plan because of its proximity to national parks and wilderness areas.

Craig Station, which generates 1,303 megawatts of electricity, was also part of the plan.

Silverstein said the emissions controls will reduce both nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide, the two pollutants that contribute the most toward regional haze.

The $400 million project at Craig Station calls for the installation of two selective catalytic reduction systems. One needs to be installed by December 2017 and the other by August 2021. A selective non-catalytic reduction system will be installed by December 2017.

“As with most compliance and other operational expenses, the cost will be borne largely by the electricity customers who receive their power from Craig Station,” Craig Station spokesman Drew Kramer said.

Down below, 200 people will be working at the peak of construction to build two selective catalytic reduction units.

The work represents a $160 million investment aimed at reducing emissions of nitrogen oxide, or NOx, by 90 percent.

“This is the latest and greatest environmental control,” Plant Manager Manny Zeringue said during a tour of the plant.

In 2010, the United States Environmental Protection Agency raised its standards for nitrogen oxide emissions. The project in Hayden is aimed at reducing regional haze, but the EPA raised the standards to protect public health. NOx can affect the respiratory systems of people with asthma, children and the elderly, according to the EPA.

“We do expect to see an improved air quality in the region,” Zeringue said. “Regional haze will be reduced.”

The investments at Hayden Station are being made despite political and regulatory pressure at the state and national level to move away from burning coal for electricity generation.

Coal-fueled power plants have always been an easy target, said Ian Lange, an assistant professor of economics at the Colorado School of Mines.

“By far, they’re the most polluting source in the U.S.,” said Lange, who used to work at the EPA. “The issue, primarily, is they were 50 percent of U.S. electricity production. They were the cheapest electricity production. You need them.”

Natural gas prices changed that landscape.

“Now, coal no longer can say ‘I’m the cheapest source; I’m the best electricity solution,’” Lange said.

Industry responds to new laws

Xcel Energy owns a majority of Hayden Station and operates the plant, which went online in 1965.

Over the past 50 years, investments have been made to continue rebuilding the plant. The massive generator turbines are completely overhauled every six to nine years.

“This is an important part of our generating fleet, and it’s going to be for a long time,” Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said. “Long time meaning several decades.”

The two generating units at Hayden Station can produce a combined 446 megawatts, which is enough energy to power about 334,500 homes.

The plant employs about 85 employees and between 12 and 15 full-time contract workers.

On the supply side of coal-fueled power plants, employment in coal mining has been on the decline in recent years, and in 2014, it dipped to 1,512 jobs in Colorado.

The impact on coal-industry jobs was a big concern when the Clean Air-Clean Jobs bill was debated by Colorado legislators in 2010. Coal-industry leaders felt left out of the debate and were competing against natural gas interests. Then-Gov. Bill Ritter signed the bill on April 19, 2010.

“The Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act will dramatically reduce air pollution and support the growth of homegrown energy, ensuring that cleaner-burning Colorado natural gas works together with renewable energy to keep building our nationally recognized new energy economy,” Ritter said at the time. “This legislation gives us a chance to clean the air in Rocky Mountain National Park, to reduce the Brown Cloud and to cut mercury emissions that threaten the health of our children. By crafting this uniquely Colorado solution, this bill also will allow us to comply with looming federal clean air standards.”

As part of that bill, Xcel Energy had to submit an emissions reduction plan to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

“Virtually all of our power plants were affected by Clean Air-Clean Jobs,” Stutz said.

Xcel’s $1 billion plan to comply with the bill and the regional haze plan meant its customers would pay about 2 percent more on their bills over the next 10 years.

Xcel had a three-pronged plan of retiring coal units or retrofitting them with natural gas.

“Xcel knew they needed to do things for regional haze,” said Michael Silverstein with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Xcel, to its credit, said ‘Let’s not look at this as one issue, one at a time. Let’s put this into a package.’”

At plants like Hayden Station, they focused on reducing emissions.

Xcel’s plan called for retiring 702 megawatts of coal-fueled generation at their Valmont, Arapahoe and Cherokee plants. They would add 569 megawatts of natural gas production at Cherokee and convert an existing unit to natural gas.

Emissions controls would be installed on 951 megawatts of coal-fueled generation.

One of the goals was to reduce NOx emissions at Denver-area coal plants by 70 to 80 percent by December 2017.

In deciding what coal-fueled units to retire, Stutz said Xcel looked at the age of the plants. Valmont, for example, went online in 1924.

According to Xcel, it did not make sense to convert Hayden Station to natural gas.

“We don’t have the infrastructure in this area,” Stutz said. “It would require a huge gas pipeline.”

Stutz noted that a 34-mile natural gas pipeline for the Cherokee plant in Denver cost $110 million.

It also did not make sense to convert Hayden Station to natural gas because the plant has a coal source 20 miles away at Twentymile Coal Mine. Five years ago, Hayden Station installed a rail spur that now allows Xcel to bring in all 1.4 million tons of coal the plant needs annually.

Hayden Station currently gets all its coal from Twentymile Mine, which, in 2014, produced 6.66 million tons of coal.

Each week, between three and four trains deliver coal to Hayden Station.

“It’s a very reliable supply,” Zeringue said.

Coming online

By early spring, crews working on Hayden Station’s selective catalytic reduction units had installed 600 tons of steel, 900 tons of ductwork, 8,000 feet of piping and 100,000 feet of cable.

The units will use a chemical process to convert NOx into nitrogen and water.

Project Manager John Pierce said the project was on budget and on schedule. Unit 1 is scheduled to be operating at required standards by November, and Unit 2 will operating by November 2016.

This is not the first time emissions controls have been added at Hayden Station.

Successful lawsuits by the Sierra Club environmental group forced the region’s coal-powered plants to clean up.

Prompted by documented “acid snow” buildup research in the 140,000-acre acre Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area northeast of Steamboat Springs, the Sierra Club environmental group filed a lawsuit against the operators of the Hayden and Craig coal-powered plants.

The Sierra Club prevailed, and the lawsuit with Hayden Station was settled in 1996.

More than $100 million was spent to install smokestack scrubbers and bag houses at Hayden Station in 1999.

The bag houses are essentially giant vacuum cleaners that remove more than 99 percent of particulate emissions. Dry scrubbers reduce sulfur dioxide by about 85 percent.

On its books, Xcel has given the new selective catalytic reduction units at Hayden Station a financial life expectancy of 20 years.

As Xcel cleans up its coal-powered plants, the company continues to invest in renewable power sources. Xcel is the nation’s largest provider of wind-generated energy. The company generate 5,735 megawatts now and will generate more than 8,000 megawatts by 2020.

In Colorado, Xcel currently generates about 2,350 megawatts of wind power, and another 250 megawatts is expected to come online this year.

Both coal and natural gas will continue to play a role in the energy industry.

“You want to create a diverse portfolio so when gas prices do go high, you can fall back on coal,” Stutz said.

Lange, assistant professor of economics at the Colorado School of Mines, thinks coal-fueled electricity is on the decline, but it will continue to be part of the mix.

“There are some regions that have a hard time doing other things well,” Lange said.

Lange said coal-fueled plants in the future will be small regional players in areas where there is a coal supply nearby to feed the plants.

“Nobody’s talking about opening them,” Lange said. “Everybody’s talking about closing them.”


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