Colorado haze plan, which impacts coal plants, gets initial EPA nod

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said March 9 that Colorado’s State Implementation Plan for Regional Haze has received preliminary approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The EPA’s proposal to approve the Regional Haze Plan is a ringing endorsement of a comprehensive and collaborative effort to address this issue,” Hickenlooper said. “This plan is a major step in the state’s efforts to comply with the federal Regional Haze rule, a congressionally-established air quality goal that seeks to improve visibility in national parks and wilderness areas across the country, while also providing public health benefits.”

A key component of the overall haze plan from the state is the 2010 Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act (CACJA) passed by the Colorado General Assembly that requires emissions controls, retirement of old, inefficient coal-fired power plants and conversion of certain electric generating units from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas. The Public Service Co. of Colorado unit of Xcel Energy is already proceeding with its part of act compliance.

“Colorado’s bipartisan clean air plan will provide healthier air for our children and help clear the brown cloud over Denver while strengthening our economy,” said Pamela Campos, an attorney in the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado office. “EPA has shown strong leadership by proposing approval, clearing the way for historic pollution reductions from the single largest emitters in Colorado so that we can all breathe easier.”

By 2018, the haze plan will result in more than 70,000 tons of pollutant reductions annually, including 35,000 tons of NOx, which leads to ground-level ozone formation. In total, the haze plan covers 30 units at 16 facilities throughout Colorado, including coal-fired power plants and cement kilns.

“Our plan will lead to less haze and improved visibility in some of Colorado’s most treasured and scenic areas, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde, Maroon Bells and the Great Sand Dunes,” said Dr. Christopher Urbina, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Colorado has long recognized the importance of protecting air quality in national parks and wilderness areas, and has taken a leadership role in developing a plan that reduces emissions of pollutants that adversely impact visibility. The tremendous pollution reductions will also have significant public health benefits.”

“EPA’s proposal to approve Colorado’s plan works for both the environment and our customers,” said David Eves, president and CEO of Public Service Co. of Colorado (PSCo). “EPA has now joined the Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado legislature and other stakeholders in endorsing our plan under the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. EPA’s action helps assure we can significantly reduce emissions while keeping electricity affordable.”

“This approval is an important endorsement of Colorado’s state-led collaboration,” said Tisha Conoly Schuller, President & CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. “The Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act will support job creation in Colorado’s natural gas sector while measurably reducing air pollutant emissions.”

Notable is that the Hickenlooper statement from March 9 didn’t include a quote from the Colorado Mining Association, which represents coal producers in the state and fought against the CACJA. In an August 2011 statement, the association in part blamed CACJA for a recent fall in Colorado coal production.

“In 2010, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel Energy’s emissions reduction plan submitted under House Bill 1365, the so-called Clean Air Clean Jobs Act, which will end coal use along the Front Range, and result in the early retirement of coal power plants before the end of their projected lives,” said the August 2011 mining association statement. “This will result in the displacement of up to 4 million tons of clean, high quality, Colorado coal currently being sold to Front Range generating stations. That coal cannot readily be sold out of state because those markets have declined substantially (by more than 40%) since 2005.”

EPA will take public comment on its proposed haze approval and intends to finalize its decision no later than Sept. 10, 2012. The haze plan, as approved by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission and submitted to the EPA, can be viewed at

PSCo proceeding with air plan provisions

The CACJA required PSCo to file a comprehensive plan to reduce annual emissions of NOx by at least 70% to 80% or greater from 2008 levels by 2017 from the coal-fired generation identified in the plan. The plan allows PSCo to propose emission controls, plant refueling, or plant retirement of at least 900 MW of coal-fired units in Colorado by 2017, Xcel noted in its Feb. 24 annual Form 10-K report. The total investment associated with the adopted plan is about $1bn through 2017 and the rate impact is expected to increase future bills on average by 2% annually.

In December 2010, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved the following under the CACJA:

  • Shutdown of the coal-fired Cherokee Units 2 and 1 in 2011 and 2012, respectively, and Cherokee Unit 3 (365 MW in total) by the end of 2015, after a new natural gas combined-cycle unit is built at Cherokee (569 MW).
  • Fuel-switch Cherokee Unit 4 (352 MW) to natural gas by 2017.
  • Shutdown of the coal-fired Arapahoe Unit 3 (45 MW) and fuel-switch Unit 4 (111 MW) in 2014 to natural gas.
  • Shutdown of the coal-fired Valmont Unit 5 (186 MW) in 2017.
  • Install selective catalytic reduction (SCR) for controlling NOx and a scrubber for controlling SO2 on the coal-fired Pawnee plant in 2014.
  • Install SCRs on the coal-fired Hayden Unit 1 in 2015 and Hayden Unit 2 in 2016.
  • Convert Cherokee Unit 2 and Arapahoe Unit 3 to synchronous condensers to support the transmission system.

PSCo has received commission approvals for the conversion of Cherokee Unit 2 to a synchronous condenser, for the decommissioning of Cherokee Unit 1 and Unit 2, and for the Pawnee emissions controls. In addition, PSCo has filed for approval for the new natural gas combined-cycle facility at the Cherokee station and the Hayden emissions controls, the Form 10-K noted. Cherokee Unit 2 was taken out of service in October 2011.
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.