Xcel Energy, oil industry skeptical of electrification proposal


Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest power provider, told state regulators it’s not ready to electrify large numbers of big gas-fueled stationary engines that pressurize natural gas distribution pipelines and oil and gas wells in the state — at least not on the timeline proposed to Colorado air quality regulators by the National Parks Conservation Association.

The engines in question are large, more than 1,000 horsepower, and would require infrastructure investment on a scale Xcel Energy hasn’t planned.

“It is infinitely more difficult than it might seem,” said Melissa Arnold, Xcel Energy’s specialist who works with oil and gas production companies to supply electricity to their projects.

Switching hundreds of the engines scattered around the state to run off electricity — many of them in remote areas — could require increasing Xcel Energy’s peak load capacity 14% and adding new power generation equal to three of its largest power plants serving northern Colorado, the company said.

The idea of electrifying the engines arose as part of the state Air Quality Control Commission tightening rules covering oil and gas industry emissions.

The state already requires permits and pollution controls on 847 of the gas-fired engines, used predominantly by oil and gas producers and pipeline companies to pressurize their systems. State air quality regulators have proposed rules lowering the engines’ permitted nitrogen oxide emissions limits.

The move could require modifying at least 223 of the engines statewide and would cut the haze-causing pollution by 2,361 tons annually, the Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimates.

The National Parks Conservation Association is urging the state to go further. It proposed that the AQCC require electrification of the engines as a way to combat pollution contributing to alpine lake acidity and regional haze in Rocky Mountain National Park, northwest of Denver.

The oil and gas industry has strenuously argued against the NPCA’s proposal, saying a blanket electrification requirement isn’t feasible and would carry an enormous costs for companies and electricity ratepayers.

It prefers to have Colorado adopt the emissions limits proposed by the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, but allow companies the flexibility to determine how best to modify pollution controls across their fleets of 1,000-horsepower engines and meet a fleetwide emissions standard.


That approach could cost companies about $200 million, doesn’t allow the flexibility and those costs might rise 50%, said Jennifer Biever, an attorney representing a joint industry working group of oil and gas companies.

The industry, testifying at an AQCC rulemaking hearing last week, said NPCA proposal so underplays the complexity and cost of blanket electrification that it shouldn’t even be considered.

“It assumes electrification is easy. It’s not,” said Eric Groten, an attorney for Western Midstream, a pipeline and natural gas gathering company with several of engines.

The state’s pollution control division isn’t endorsing the NPCA proposal either.

AQCC commissioners are scheduled to decide on new large-engine emissions standards to adopt after deliberations Wednesday evening.

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