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    EPA fines Xcel Energy nearly $1M for handling of waste at power plant


    May 26, 2022 - Judith Kohler

     

      Xcel Energy-Colorado is facing a $925,000 penalty by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not complying with regulations on the disposal of coal ash and not properly monitoring groundwater at a power plant in Pueblo.

      The EPA said in a statement that Xcel Energy has agreed to address groundwater contamination at the Comanche coal-fired power plant and ensure the proper closure of impoundments holding the waste.

      The settlement was approved last week by the judicial officer for the EPA Region 8 office in Denver. The EPA said Xcel Energy didn't:

      * Monitor groundwater under the plant and prepare reports on corrective actions.

      * Conduct statistical analysis of groundwater data and establish background contaminant concentrations.

      * Stop using an impoundment when it was supposed to.

      * Provide access to documents that were required to be posted on a publicly accessible website.

      Coal ash, the solids left from burning coal in power plants, can contain harmful levels of contaminants such as mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, according to the EPA. The agency approved its first regulations for disposal of the waste in 2015.

      Cobalt and molybdenum have been detected in wells on the plant site, EPA spokeswoman Melissa Sullivan said Tuesday in an email. There have been no confirmed effects on off-site drinking water, she said.

      Sullivan said Xcel Energy was out of compliance with the rules since Oct. 17, 2017.

      Suzanne Bohan, EPA Region 8's Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division director, said the agency will continue working with state partners to hold operators of facilities responsible under the Coal Combustion Residuals program, restore the environment and "protect communities, like Pueblo, that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution."

      While Xcel Energy believes it followed the federal rules based on the utility's understanding of local groundwater conditions, the agreement ensures that operations meet EPA's expectations for monitoring and reporting, company spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said in a statement.

      "Based on our current groundwater monitoring results, we have no indication of impacts that would affect local residents or drinking and surface water from the coal ash operations at Comanche," Aguayo said. "We remain fully committed to following the rule and are taking steps to do so in cooperation with EPA."

      The Comanche power plant has three units. The newest one, Unit 3, has had long standing operational and mechanical problems and is currently out of commission because of a damaged generator.

      Xcel Energy has proposed closing Units 1 and 2 by 2025 and Unit 3 by the start of 2031, several years earlier than originally planned. The closure dates are part of a proposed new resource plan the Colorado Public Utilities Commission is considering.

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