The expected early retirement of a massive coal plant in Pueblo County, Colo., has the county commissioners mulling small modular reactors as a power source replacement.
The plant in question is Xcel Energy’s three-unit Comanche Generating Station, Colorado’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, Xcel received approval from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to retire Units 1 and 2 in 2023 and 2025, respectively. And earlier this year, the company filed a proposal to close the much newer Unit 3 in 2039—three decades earlier than expected. (Xcel also plans to run the unit at only 33 percent, beginning in 2030.) Meanwhile, environmental groups have been pushing for the closure of Unit 3 by the end of the decade.
The SMR option: In testimony filed last week with the PUC on behalf of the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners, board chair Garrison Ortiz asked that in the event the PUC orders the closure of Comanche-3 by 2030, it authorize Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCO)—the Xcel subsidiary that is the majority owner of the unit—“to build, own, and operate zero-emission replacement generation in Pueblo of at least 750 MW that would provide property tax benefits of at least $31 million per year [the amount the plant’s owners currently pay in property taxes] and continue to employ the current work force at Comanche-3.” According to Ortiz, the only zero-emission technology that could be implemented by 2029 is SMR technology.
Ortiz continued: “There could be cost savings of $150 million by repurposing the Comanche site with SMR technology. . . . This commission has ordered the closure of Comanche-1 in 2023 and Comanche-2 in 2025. Thus, it is possible that PSCO could begin construction of SMR technology as Comanche-1 and -2 are demolished, and there could be a seamless transition to zero-emission nuclear if Comanche-3 is closed in 2029. There will likely be federal grants and loans for construction of zero-emission electric power generators that could reduce the cost substantially.”
The PUC could reach a decision regarding Comanche-3’s closing date in December, when it hears formal arguments on the future of Xcel’s operations in Colorado.