By Vicky Dorvee 

Xcel Energy officials discuss Valmont Power Plant


Boulder County Commissioners met with Xcel Energy officials on May 8 to discuss the current status of the energy company’s Valmont power plant. Following the cessation of most of the facility’s coal operations in 2017, cleanup and containment efforts have been in process. Both the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the federal Environmental Protection Association regulations determine the specific directives to which Xcel must adhere throughout the process.

Commissioners Elise Jones, Cindy Domenico, and Deb Gardner were addressed by Xcel Energy Director of Environmental Services Jeff West. West presented an overview of the shutdown of the plant which had been providing coal-generated energy to Boulder County since 1964, but was directed to shut down in compliance with the Colorado Clean Air – Clean Jobs Act.

He explained that Xcel is required to close the ash impoundment areas and only one of the original six coal generating units will remain in operation.

“As you can see, there’s a lot of activity that’s still maintained on that site,” West said. “Primarily we’re going to have a 47-megawatt generating unit that’s used for peaking situations. We’re going to have our transmission and substations switching yards that are used for the resilience of our grid and other activities. So, we’re going to continue to maintain this site as we would with any other site.”

Leggett Reservoir, which had been integral to circulating cooling water, has been drawn down from its normal high capacity and the thousands of fish that had populated the reservoir were relocated. The water will be initially replaced, but since it’s no longer needed at the plant, the level of the reservoir will be allowed to naturally rise and fall.

The project is presently in the stage of ash removal and impoundment. Soil samples are being taken within the ash storage area and ground water monitoring has been put in place. Reassurances were given that the phased project is going as planned. West’s timeline for the closure indicates the energy company expects to complete the necessary steps for disposal and impoundment of coal ash by July 2018.

Once considered the largest coal-operating power station west of the Missouri River, the heavy metal byproducts from coal burning — such as selenium, lead, mercury and arsenic — are the primary focus of the commissioners, who want to assure that those toxins won’t become a threat to public health through ground water.

West said there are 13 groundwater monitor wells around the landfill which are required to be in place for 30 years to check for contamination. Boulder County Public Health officials confirmed that all readings thus far are at levels “ubiquitous with the geology of Colorado.” A representative from the Boulder County Public Health Department also stated all present readings are in compliance.

Apprehensions of the county commissioners were distilled down to two specific subjects: the ability of laypersons to interpret “voluminous” reports generated by Xcel and the present federal administration’s inclinations toward deregulation, particularly when it comes to coal ash and how that might affect the cleanup process.

While Xcel does provide public reports, Jones said, “The data is hard to find and understand.” She asked if the information could be “reflected in a more accessible and understandable way.”

Xcel Area Manager Craig Eicher offered to provide notification letters that are less cumbersome to interpret in order to provide more transparency around any significantly statistical incidents. The letters will be posted on Xcel’s website for public viewing.

Responding to the possibility of federal regulations being rolled back and inquiries by the commissioners as to whether Xcel would be willing to work on an agreement directly with the county to assure proper monitoring, Xcel and state officials responded that Colorado’s requirements are very protective and are on par with federal stipulations. However, West said Xcel would not rule out discussions with Boulder County should the situation arise.

The next formal status update from Xcel Energy is scheduled for July 2018.


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