Category Archives: Colorado

Comanche 3–The Billion Dollar Mistake

Xcel has spent over $1 Billion to build the new 750 MW Unit 3 coal plant in Pueblo (which Xcel refers to as “Comanche 3”) and they are presently trying to bring the coal plant on line. Yet, there are a growing number of signs that the coal plant is a “Billion Dollar Mistake.”

The coal plant has been plagued by engineering and noise issues which are discussed in a recent report to the Colorado PUC here. There is a Powerpoint (starting on page 7 of 35) included in the “Verified Report” at this link which details the problems that Xcel has been experiencing with leaking steam tubes, boiler pumps that won’t work and a high pitched noise that is causing tremendous disturbance to local residents who are becoming depressed and distraught, with many of them moving into hotels (which at least Xcel is paying for) because they can not bear the noise any longer and the sleep deprivation has become too much. Of course moving into a hotel is also a tremendous disturbance to one’s life and the residents’ health issues are becoming exacerbated by the continuous noise that disrupts their sleep and creates serious additional stress.

You can read the comments of the local citizens who are being affected by the noise issue on the PUC website under Docket 10M-135E.

Operating the coal plant will cost approximately $1 billion per decade and add large amounts of CO2, mercury and other pollutants to the environment. Soon Colorado will have to decide whether it is worth putting good money after bad when it comes to the coal plant or whether the money spent operating the plant would be better spent building out the renewable energy infrastrucuture that will keep Colorado powered in the 21st century as coal and pollution control (and likely carbon) costs mount.

Here is a report detailing the history and the expected future costs of operating the coal plant attached.

Xcel has received three rate increases in the last four years totalling over $300 million dollars of additional annual revenue paid by Colorado rate payers and the largest driver in these back-to-back rate increases has been the Unit 3 coal plant.

More information is available on request.

Colorado’s Billion Dollar Mistake

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Xcel’s 2009 Coal Prices Match Price Predicted for 2035–Ooops…

In its last Resource Plan Xcel predicted that its coal prices would stay relatively flat–increasing about 2% a year for the next several decades. Historical prices back to 1998 can be seen in LWG 1-4, part (b).  Until Xcel’s long term coal contracts began expiring in 2005, the average price paid for coal was under $1/MMBTU (million BTUs).

Once the long term coal contracts expired, Xcel’s coal costs have been mounting significantly-averaging over 10%/year. In 2009, Xcel paid over $1.50/MMBTU. In Xcel’s 2009 Annual 10-k report submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Xcel reported paying $1.52/MMBTU for its coal in Colorado. (See page 21 for Xcel’s Colorado coal costs.) In response to the Discovery Question LWG 5-3 (Docket 09A-772E), Xcel provided a 2009 coal cost of $1.61/MMBTU. The reason for the discrepancy is not clear–but either way this is a 50% increase in price in four years–way beyond the 2% per year price increase that was predicted in the last Xcel Resource Plan.

With a coal price in excess of $1.50/MMBTU in 2009, Xcel paid a price for coal in 2009 that it didn’t expect to pay until 2035. Ooops!

A careful assessment of production statistics and the geology of existing coal mines and an analysis of future constraints on coal production indicate that future price increases for coal are likely. While all fossil fuels are subject to complex forces of supply and demand and their price is volatile, the fact that coal is a solid, makes it difficult to work around the very real geologic constraints that exist on economically accessible coal.

More information on coal supplies is available in the extensive Clean Energy Action report issued in February 2009 entitled, “Coal–Cheap and Abundant–Or Is It?”