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Pueblo will always have chiles. But coal? It’s gone after 2030. A committee was formed to investigate energy alternatives. Nuclear is among them.


In late April, the Pueblo Chieftain reported the creation of a committee to explore what happens after the last of the coal-fired units at the Comanche Generating Station closes before 2031.

Some who saw the story suspected that Xcel Energy, primary owner of the coal units, had its hands stealthily on the committees.

Others wondered if it was the camel of nuclear energy poking its nose under the tent. The Pueblo County commissioners in the last few years have shown strong interest in exploring a nuclear option. A renewables advocacy group, Pueblo’s Energy Future, had commissioned a study in 2022 that showed strong opposition to the nuclear option.

Summoned to the Pueblo City Council meeting, Ashley Valdez, the community and local government affairs manager for Xcel, explained that loss of generation from Comanche 3’s 750-megawatts of capacity will “leave a big gap for Xcel Energy.”

She said no one particular thing will replace the lost generation. The committee had been formed to study the options, “to find the best fit.” And dispatchability “is very important to us,” she added. “When we have those hot days in July when everyone is turning on air conditioners.” The  replacement generation must come on line by 2030.

Too, land availability was an issue. Comanche currently occupies close to 700 acres. Could something be done using that land—with access to high-voltage transmission while also keeping the tax base within Pueblo and Pueblo County, and the presumably higher-paying jobs, too? And then there are environmental impacts of the technology—and the cost, too.

“Those are just some of the key criteria we are looking at across the the study as we go forward,” she said.

Technologies being studied by Pueblo committee

The committee appointed by Xcel and local officials has been meeting four hours monthly to study these energy alternatives. Top, a wall in Pueblo. Photo/Allen Best

The committee of 17 members began  meeting in February. The monthly meetings last four hours and will continue through August, then picking up to twice a month before the final report recommendations are reached in November. Outside reading is also assigned.

Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar, at a meeting of the mayor’s committee on energy, indicated he was fine with the committee, which he called “sort of a just transition committee.”

Still there was mistrust by Pueblo’s Energy Future members, who saw the 17 committee members being more open to nuclear whereas they see a future with no room for nuclear.

Hollie Velasquez Horvath, regional vice president for state affairs & community relations for Xcel, told Big Pivots that formation of the committee was triggered by a stipulation of the settlement last year regarding Xcel’s electric resource plan. Pueblo County, as a part of the settlement, wanted a study about replacement generation at Comanche 3 that would include a community engagement component. The community committee members include some individuals that Xcel has been talking with since 2018, when it started creating plans to retire two of the three coal plants.

This study will be part of the just transition electric resource plan application due for submittal to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in June 2024.

Horvath confirmed that the intent is to keep the replacement generation within the footprint of the existing coal-fired plant—and to use some of the existing infrastructure, if possible. “I don’t know if that is possible, but we do need to try.”

As for nuclear, it is among the study topics. The county commissioners was very vocal in the proceedings before the PUC that they wanted to study all 24/7 dispatchable generation sources and were interested in looking at nuclear power,” she said.

The committee meetings are recorded, and those recordings are posted at Xcel’s Innovative Energy Solutions Study website.


Above, a slide from the April meeting outlining the options being studied.

Allen Best
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