Xcel Energy plans biomass plant at Hayden Generating Station

Proposal awaiting Public Utilities Commission approval

The site of the Hayden Generating Station, shown in March, is proposed for a 19-megawatt biomass plant that would employ 26 people full time.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As part of its “Just Transition” plan for Hayden, Xcel Energy is proposing the creation of a 19-megawatt biomass plant at the Hayden Generating Station with the two aging units at the coal-fired power plant set to be retired in 2027 and 2028.

The biomass proposal is part of Xcel’s Phase II Clean Energy Plan submitted this week to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Michelle Aguayo, Xcel media spokesperson, said a commission decision is needed before proposed projects can move forward, and such electric resource plans are filed with the commission about every two years. A commission spokesperson said the plan is scheduled on the PUC agenda for December.

Subject to commission approval, construction on the biomass plant is expected to start before the end of 2025 and be complete by the end 2028, Aguayo said.

“The Hayden Biomass project demonstrates the company’s commitment to providing a just transition during the evolution of our generation portfolio by supporting the local community and displaced workforce from the retiring Hayden coal units in the Yampa Valley,” according to the Xcel public report “Our Energy Future: Destination 2030.”

The biomass unit would utilize primarily forest waste resulting from fire prevention activities and residual debris from beetle-killed trees, according to the Xcel report.

“These materials would otherwise be burned onsite, resulting in carbon emissions and uncontrolled pollutants being released with no beneficial byproduct. The alternative of utilizing these materials in a state-of-the-art biomass facility with modern efficient emissions controls and providing firm dispatchable carbon-neutral electricity provides significant societal and environmental benefits,” according to Xcel.

The biomass project is anticipated to employ 26 full-time, longterm employees, which amounts to 40% of the 65 employees currently employed at the station, Aguayo said. According to Xcel, workers at the Hayden plant already possess, on average, approximately 80% of the skills needed to operate and maintain a biomass unit.

Xcel officials say they plan to work closely with a biomass unit vendor, Colorado Northwestern Community College, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 111, building trade unions in the region and the Council for Adult Experiential Learning to identify additional training needed to build, operate and maintain the plant.

John Bristol, executive director at Routt County Economic Development Partnership, said he is “disappointed” that the current Xcel plan does not retain more jobs, and he hopes Xcel will be able to develop more options or projects at the site to employ more than 26 people in the future.

Aguayo said a previously discussed option of a molten salt energy storage facility at the site is “not under consideration as part of this Clean Energy Plan.”

“We continue to look at innovative technology options for the site and the broader region, and molten salt is part of that effort,” Aguayo said. “It is very likely that other projects for the area will be included in future electric resource plans.”

The planned biomass operation would provide enough carbon-neutral generation to supply electricity to more than 36,000 Colorado homes annually and provide a market for byproducts from forest management activities contributing to reduced wildfire risk, diverting landfill waste and aiding in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems, according to Xcel.

According to an Xcel information sheet from September, the coal-fired electric-generating facility in Hayden has a total peak energy production capacity of 441 megawatts. Xcel’s share of that production is about 230 megawatts, Aguayo said.

Unit 1 at the Hayden station at 179 megawatts capacity came into service in 1965 and is planned for retirement in 2028. Unit 2 at 262 megawatts capacity came into service in 1976 with retirement set for 2027.

Xcel notes that most of the company’s coal plant workers say they prefer to stay within their community and retain a job within the company after plant closure. Through the past 15 years, Xcel closed 18 units across the company’s service territory without any forced workforce reductions, according to the report.

“The company will leverage natural attrition and worker retirements to maintain appropriate staffing levels leading up to closure and beyond,” Xcel noted. “The remaining workers will be up-skilled to operate and maintain the new clean energy assets or if they choose, relocated and/or transitioned and re-skilled into another job.”

Xcel’s Clean Energy Plan proposes to double the amount of renewable energy on the system and invest up to $15 billion across Colorado while taking advantage of $10 billion in Inflation Reduction Act tax credit benefits to reduce costs and support customers, communities and workers.

“The Preferred Plan keeps costs low for customers, with an average annual rate impact of 2.3%. This means that adjusted for inflation, the average residential customer’s monthly bill in 2030 will be about $10 more than today,” according to Xcel.

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