Xcel reports that Sherco plant nearly back up to coal inventory target

Northern States Power told the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in a heavily-redacted Feb. 20 update that rail deliveries of coal at the Sherburne County (Sherco) power plant have improved lately.

The update is from H.C. Romer, Director Fuel Supply Operations at Xcel Energy Services Inc., and John T. Welch, Director Power Operations for Xcel Energy Services. The BNSF they mention is the BNSF Railway, the subject of many complaints from power companies in recent months due to lagging coal deliveries. The UPRR is the Union Pacific Railroad, which is the other major western U.S. railroad and not the target of nearly as many complaints as the BNSF.

“Current coal inventories are slightly less than optimal at Sherco, which is serviced by BNSF,” they wrote. “Since the last update, coal inventory has increased significantly at Sherco. Inventory level at King is at or above optimal levels; this plant is serviced by UPRR.”

The Xcel officials noted: “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.”

Other utilities also filed coal inventory updates with the Wisconsin PSC on Feb. 19 and 20. The commission had issued an order last October, during the peak of the rail delivery crisis, asking for bi-weekly updates. The updates were all heavily redacted in their public versions.

WPPI Energy

“WPPI Energy (WPPI) owns a 20% share of the Boswell 4 generating unit located in Cohasset, Minnesota. Minnesota Power (MP) manages the fuel inventory for the entire Boswell Energy Center and WPPI Energy owns a portion of the total coal inventory. WPPI’s coal inventory is currently above the targeted inventory level. Train cycle times have been significantly longer than historical cycle times and more unit trains are in service than have been required in the past. A planned unit maintenance outage in October 2014 and increased coal deliveries in November and December have allowed inventory levels to recover.

“With respect to the Elm Road Generating Station located in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in which WPPI owns an 8.33% interest, please see the data request responses filed by Wisconsin Electric Power Company in this docket.”

Wisconsin Electric Power

All that Wisconsin Electric’s public filing said was: “All plants are at budget inventory levels.” 

Wisconsin Power and Light

WPL said generally about coal inventories: “WPL has been able to conserve coal through small dispatch adders and offering one unit in economic status at various times in 2015. WPL estimates that the impact of these actions on WPL’s fuel costs has been approximately [redacted] YTD for 2015.”

The WPL updates by plant were: 

  • Columbia Generating Station (Units 1 and 2: “The three co-owners have administered the burn at Columbia to manage inventory at levels that would promote reliability and availability of the units. Through these efforts, Columbia coal inventory has increased in recent months.”
  • Edgewater Generating Station (Units 3 and 4): “Edgewater’s 3/4 coal pile is approaching the targeted level.”
  • Edgewater Generating Station (Unit 5): “Edgewater’s unit 5 inventory has reached the targeted level.”
  • Nelson Dewey Generating Station (Units 1 and 2): “Slow rail service over the summer of 2014 has left the facility with less than desired quantity of coal on the ground as the barge delivery navigation season comes to a close.”
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.