Northern States Power reports it is still short of coal at Sherco plant

Northern States Power still has low coal inventories at the big Sherburne County (Sherco) coal-fired power plant due to rail issues, but is doing fine at two other plants because they are not on the service-constrained BNSF Railway and instead are on the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR).

H.C. Romer, Director Fuel Supply Operations at Xcel Energy Services, wrote heavily-redacted testimony filed Jan. 9 with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin about the status of coal deliveries. Romer wrote: “Current coal inventories continue to be far less than optimal at Sherco, which is serviced by BNSF. Since the last update, coal inventory has slightly increased. Inventory levels at King and Black Dog are at or above optimal levels; these plants are serviced by UPRR. On December 30, the Surface Transportation Board directed BNSF to submit a detailed description of its contingency plans to mitigate potential inventory shortages for its electric utility coal shippers. It was ordered that a response is due no later than January 29, 2015. 

Asked to provide a brief description of any strategies currently in use to address coal delivery problems, including the frequency and degree of any restricted dispatch of plants, Romer said: “When necessary, Xcel Energy utilized a cost adder in our energy offers submitted to MISO to help restore coal inventory levels that were depleted due to poor railroad coal delivery performance by reducing generation production at the Sherco units during periods with lower Locational Marginal Prices (LMP). This approach allowed for energy to remain available to be produced from the units during higher priced periods in an effort to minimize customer cost impacts. Xcel Energy’s objective is to maintain stockpiles with sufficient coal to provide reliable generation during normal disruptions to the coal mine(s) or to the rail transporter. There are currently no cost adders on any NSP units to mitigate or reduce coal consumption, and we have not instituted any specific control of plant operations beyond this measure.”

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.