LAMB COUNTY, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Xcel Energy announced on Monday a proposal to retire coal operations at the Tolk Generating Station in Texas more than four years early. However, the company said that the station will not be closing and that officials have committed to transitioning employees into new roles.
The company said that by retiring the Tolk Generating Station in 2028, alongside other accelerated retirements in other states, it could be coal-free by the end of 2030.
The two coal-fueled units at Tolk Generating Station in Lamb County, Texas, were scheduled for retirement between 2032 and 2034, “because of a growing shortage of underground water resources for their boilers and cooling towers,” according to Xcel Energy. Over the last two years, the company noted that it has reduced the number of hours the Tolk units have been in operation in an effort to extend those water resources. However, Xcel said that the proposal to regulators that would allow for the retiring of Tolk’s coal-fueled generating units could give more flexibility in plant operation and help offset the high cost of natural gas.
Xcel Energy detailed that natural gas fuels about 30% of the region’s electricity generation, and proposed that continuing a shift away from natural gas via retiring the Tolk units could save customers around $70 million in fuel costs.
Further, Xcel said that the company has updated the Tolk Generating Station with synchronous condensers, meant to take power from the grid to operate turbines for grid voltage support. The function will remain after 2028 and new generating resources could be located at Tolk down the road.
“In short, Tolk is a vital asset on our system and is not closing in 2028,” said the company announcement, “but its function will change when the coal-fueled generating units are retired earlier than was previously announced.”
As noted in its announcement about the proposal, Xcel Energy claimed it aims to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050, in part by retiring coal generation while adding onto methods of reliable and affordable clean energy.
“As the first energy provider in the nation to set ambitious goals for addressing all the ways our customers use energy – electricity, heating, and transportation – we are always striving to provide our customers cleaner energy resources while saving them money.” said Bob Frenzel, chairman, president and CEO of Xcel Energy, “Advancing the retirement of coal operations at Tolk Station demonstrates our commitment to our clean energy strategy, while ensuring our customers and communities have reliable, affordable and safe service.”
Tolk is expected to continue flexible operations to optimize generation when natural gas prices are high while managing limited remaining water resources, with the proposed earlier retirement date, said Xcel. Further, the company noted that changes in federal laws have been making the replacement of coal generation with cleaner energy sources more cost-effective. Tolk is also expected to continue operations of currently-installed synchronous condensers after 2028 in an effort to ensure the stability of the regional grid.
The new proposed retirement date will be presented to New Mexico regulators in November, according to Xcel. The proposal will go before Texas regulators in February 2023.
“For more than forty years, the dedicated employees at Tolk Generating Station have provided reliable and safe service to our Texas and New Mexico customers and communities,” said Adrian Rodriguez, president of Xcel Energy in New Mexico and Texas, “While we maximize replacement generation in the region, we are also committed to transition our employees into new roles as needed, something we’ve done successfully at other Xcel Energy plants.”
After Xcel’s Comanche No. 3 coal unit in Colorado is retired in 2030, if the proposed move goes through, the company said that it will no longer have any plants that use coal as a fuel source.
As noted in previous reports on MyHighPlains.com, the majority of groundwater use on the High Plains is dedicated to agricultural and manufacturing use. Water managers, industries, and community members from a range of professions and perspectives have continued to advocate for diverse and sustainable water resources for Texas’ economy and growing population into the next decades.