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  • Dylan Anderson and Brodie Farquhar

Xcel Energy announces plans for 19-megawatt biomass power plant to replace coal-fired Hayden Station

Both generators at the Xcel Energy-owned facility are set to close by the end of 2028 and replaced by a generator that burns forest waste to produce electricity.

A plan brought forward by Xcel Energy this week would replace the Hayden Station, coal-fired power plan with a smaller biomass plant, which would utilize forest waste products including beetle-killed trees to generate 19-megawatts of power.

The plan still intends to close the two generating stations in Hayden before the end of 2028, but reveals more details about what the state’s largest power supplier would do with depreciating assets. Biomass has long been part of the possibilities for Hayden Station’s future, as have other ideas like molten salt storage.

Overall, the plan includes $15 billion in investments across the state, taking advantage of roughly $10 billion in federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act.

“We are excited about the plan we’ve brought before to the Commission, as it delivers significantly more wind, solar, and storage to our system, along with sustainable biomass and strategically necessary amounts of natural gas resources,” said Robert Kenney, president of Xcel Energy Colorado in a Thursday press release. “This plan relies on proven technologies, while using emerging technologies like battery storage to provide a balanced mix of resources that meet Colorado’s energy goals.”

The overall plan has been crafted to meet Colorado’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, which calls for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels. That reduction is supposed to be accomplished by 2030. In total, the plan proposes ending all coal burning by the end of 2028 and an increase of 6,500 megawatts in renewable energy generation.

“Increasing use of low-cost renewable energy sources and energy storage will save Coloradans money and move the state closer to achieving our clean energy goals,” said Gov. Jared Polis in the news release.

In 2021, Xcel announced its intention to close the Hayden Station entirely be the end of 2028. Since there have been a number of ideas discussed for the use of the site, from biomass power generation to molten salt storage and even a fish hatchery. The plan notes that if the biomass plant is not built as proposed, Xcel is still contemplating other energy opportunities.

As it closes Hayden Station, Xcel has committed to not have any layoffs. The plant currently employs about 75 people. The company has said staff reductions would come through attrition, as opposed to layoffs. The clean energy plan says the new biomass plant would require 26 full-time employees long term.

The plant would burn forest waste such as beetle-killed trees to generate 19-megawatts of power, which is just a fraction of the 441 megawatts the current coal plant can generate. Xcel says the project would provide enough power to supply 36,000 Colorado homes annually with carbon-neutral energy.

Xcel describes the new plant as “state of the art,” adding that it would have significantly less emissions than simply burning wood would have. The system is built to have a 95% to 99% reduction in particulate matter, carbon monoxide and volatile organics and a 60% to 80% reduction in nitrogen oxides, when compared to open burning, such as a wildfire.

The plant would also create a market for the byproducts created by forest management, which could help further incentivize this work, reduce wildfire risk and help improve overall forest health.

The company’s clean power plan is updated every two years, so there could be further changes to what Xcel will do with the power plant once it closes. If a biomass plant isn’t built, Xcel proposes a 200-megawatt solar far for the Hayden area instead.


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