UPDATED: Xcel commits to no employee layoffs when retiring Hayden power plant
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday to include comment from the president of Xcel Energy Colorado.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Xcel Energy announced Wednesday morning that it’s committed to avoiding any employee layoffs when closing its coal-fired power plants, including the two stations in Hayden set to retire later this decade.
In a virtual presentation, representatives of Xcel, the state’s largest power utility, unveiled details of the company’s plan to reduce carbon emissions by 85% by 2030 — and to adopt a fully carbon-free system by 2050. The plan includes adding 5,500 megawatts of wind, solar and energy storage to the Colorado system, enough to power 1.8 million homes annually, according to Ben Fowke, chairman of Xcel Energy.
“That’s more than double the amount of renewable energy in the Colorado system,” said Fowke, who added that if approved, the plan will transform the state’s energy policy.
The clean energy plan, which is expected to be filed with the state at the end of March, also calls for all of Xcel’s coal-fired plants in Colorado to be fully retired or repowered — specifically in the case of the plant near Fort Morgan — by 2040. The two stations in Hayden, which Xcel owns with PacifiCorp and Salt River, are set to retire in 2027 and 2028. Natural end of life for the Hayden facility is 2030 and 2036.
“Whenever you own a vehicle like a car, and it’s getting upwards in age, it takes more investment and capital into the car to keep it operational,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy Colorado, said later in an interview with Steamboat Pilot & Today. “This acceleration to retirement is where everyone aligned and made the most sense for that facility.”
No employee layoffs are anticipated with the plant closures, according to Xcel. Instead, the company will work with employees on a transition plan, including offering training opportunities to work in renewable energy or other energy sectors.
“We are committed to working with our employees and the communities we serve as we make significant strides leading the nation’s and Colorado’s ambitious clean energy transition, while also ensuring reliability and affordability for our customers,” Fowke said.
Rich Meisinger, business manager of IBEW Local 111 which represents over 4,200 energy workers throughout Colorado, said Xcel and the union have been forced to think outside the box to find new avenues for impacted workers, including the 68 employees at the Hayden station.
“We can’t just transfer the impacted workers to another power plant anymore,” Meisinger said. “I think the company and union are working more closely than they ever have to secure opportunities to good union jobs in Colorado.”
While a transition plan was already a component to the state’s Office of Just Transition, Gov. Jared Polis said during the presentation, that announcing there will be no layoffs “makes the job easier.”
“It’s a strong commitment to make upfront,” Polis said. “It’s not every day our economic incentives line up with our environment incentives. But that’s what’s happening here.”
Xcel has completed similar employee transitions at other plants near the Denver area, including at the Pueblo Comanche coal-fired units that will retire in 2023 and 2025.
“We made the same commitments to those about no layoffs,” Jackson said.
Specifically in Hayden, Xcel is looking at redevelopment of the existing facility. The company is looking into other possibilities for investment there to maintain the current amount of jobs and employees. Jackson said those options will be presented at the time Xcel files its plan with the state in March and will then engage in a competitive solicitation process, similar to a bidding process, to fill the need on the system.
“It will be retired and repurposed,” Jackson explained of the Hayden station. “Whether it’s battery storage that can be installed there or other innovative technology currently being explored — there’s a number of different opportunities that we’re exploring right now.”
Despite its drive for cleaner energy, there won’t be any windfarms or vast solar fields from Xcel in the region. That’s due to geography. Northwest Colorado simply isn’t a viable location due to variable wind speeds — compared with the eastern plains of Colorado — and the shorter amounts of sun throughout the day.
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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The price tag for Xcel Energy closing all its Colorado coal-fired plants will be $1.4 billion spread over decades — a sum that will be paid exclusively by the utility’s residential and commercial customers.