Xcel Energy wants to maintain local tax base when repurposing Hayden Station

Both generators at the Hayden Station are slated to be retired by 2028

Xcel Energy is mulling several ideas for how to use the Hayden Station when it stops burning coal in 2028, hoping to reinvest in the site and maintain the significant tax base the plant currently provides.

The loss of the tax base is a daunting proposition for Hayden as the plant currently amounts to about 60% of the taxes that fund school, cemetery and fire protection districts. But officials for Xcel told Routt County commissioners Monday they know what they are doing, having closed 11 coal-fired plants already.

“We’ve had surprisingly minimal, almost zero impacts on total workforce through our other transitions,” said Jack Ihle, director of environmental policy for the energy utility. “You can’t promise that in any given case, because Hayden is in its own area.”

Four of the six generating stations Xcel currently has slated to close by 2028 are in Northwest Colorado, with two in Hayden and two in Craig. The company has said it will close the Hayden Station without layoffs.

Routt County has the opportunity to grab a seat at the table during the approval process for Xcel’s Clean Energy Plan, which was submitted to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in March. The county could opt to submit public comment or an amicus brief to the commission, but commissioners could also choose to intervene in the approval process.

“If you are an intervener, you could be in the room with us if we settle this case,” Ihle said. “It is by far your most influential way for participation in the case.”

Communities like Boulder, Denver and Pueblo are already interveners in the case, as well as environmental organizations, labor unions and business groups.

“I think we are welcoming your intervention,” Ihle said. “Arguably, you are the most strongly impacted community of all of these.”

Xcel Energy is required to reduce carbon emissions by 80% from 2005 levels by 2030, a move that will likely increase energy costs by about 2% each year. By then, about 20% of the energy mix will still come from natural gas or coal, but the company anticipates more than 50% of power will come from wind.

But utilizing wind or solar energy options isn’t ideal in Northwest Colorado, mainly because there are many other places in the state where the geography lends itself better to those technologies. Ihle said the other problem is those resources receive such advantageous tax breaks, so neither would be likely to replace the dollars lost locally.

Ihle said this has led the company to pursue more advanced technology in Hayden.

One idea is solar electrolysis, which would convert sunlight into hydrogen that could then be sold to the local natural gas distributor. Another idea would utilize biomass, which in Northwest Colorado is generally wood, to create a synthetic gas that could also be distributed locally. Another potential project could be a partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to build a fish hatchery.

“The objective is to try to recover some of the tax base that could be lost with the coal plant retirement, maintain jobs in the area but also drive our technology forward,” Ihle said.

The most promising and closest to being realized is a molten salt storage facility, which would utilize some of the technology already on site, like the Hayden Unit 1 turbine. Ihle said Xcel plans to include the facility in the bidding process of the Clean Energy Plan next year.

Alex Barton, capital projects manager for Xcel, said these facilities are being looked at across the world as a replacement for coal-fired power. When built, the system would be able to match similar power outputs as the current plant, Barton said.

The system is similar to a concentrated solar plant, which uses a series of mirrors to heat up the salt. In this design, instead of mirrors, the plant would use excess energy from the power grid to heat nitrate-based salts to about 1,100 degrees.

Barton said it would use unused renewable electric energy, such as wind power created at night when energy demands are lower. That heats the salts, which heats steam and then uses the turbine to create energy.

“It is not free energy by any means, but it is energy that would have otherwise gone to waste,” Barton said.

The plant would charge at night, and then when it discharges during the day, Barton said much of the process is similar to what it is now, potentially requiring less retraining for employees. This would likely require about 30 to 40 people to run the plant 24 hours a day, Barton said.

Pete Ungerman, manager at the Hayden Station, said he was at the meeting to answer potential questions, but he was also excited to learn about the future technology that could be used at the plant.

“Morale at the plant is very good actually; people are excited for what we are going to do,” Ungerman said. “We still have jobs to do, and we are here until 2028 and possibly beyond.”

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