Cameo plant to operate for at least another year

Plant will be the site of a test to try to supplement power with solar panels

The Cameo Power Plant will get at least one more year of life as a test site aimed at learning whether solar power can be used to supplement electricity generated by burning coal.

Xcel Energy had planned to close the plant east of Grand Junction by 2011. It now can remain in operation for an additional year and maybe more with approval by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission of an experimental approach to mixing coal and solar energy.

Xcel in June will begin installing a solar trough at the plant in De Beque Canyon. The plan approved by the utilities commission calls for $4.5 million in initial costs for the project.

“When an energy plant closes, a huge vacuum in both energy production and the local economy is felt throughout the entire community,” Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, said Wednesday in a news release.

The project is a “good compromise to keep this site operational,” she said. “The economic benefits of making this conversion are a great bonus.”

The solar trough, a concave mirror array, will be used to determine whether the hybridized approach to generating electricity might work, Xcel spokesman Tom Henley said.

The idea is to reduce carbon emissions from the plant by using solar power to heat water to steam, reducing the amount of coal needed to generate electricity.

The Cameo plant employs 35 people and about the same number will remain through the test phase, Henley said.

Xcel still expects to mothball the plant once the test is complete, but the experiment could go longer and expand or end, depending on the results, he said.

The Cameo station serves about 5,500 customers. The test at the 73-megawatt plant would be one megawatt, potentially serving hundreds of homes.

The Cameo project will be the company’s first trial location concentrating solar energy to produce steam for electricity.


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