Xcel coal plant wins award

Liliana Castillo

Xcel Energy’s Tolk Station opened its doors to nearly 100 people for tours Tuesday after it was named the Plant of the Year by a national coal trade group early this year.

The Powder River Basin Coal Users Group recognized the power plant, located near Muleshoe, citing its safe operations, high reliability and environmental stewardship.

Tolk was one of four power plants considered for the annual award.

Plant Director David Low said the PRB Coal Users Group is a non-profit that oversees plants in which Powder River Basin coal is used across the country.

Low said the group pushes best practices in the industry in every aspect of how the coal is used, including safety, reliability, how the coal is burned and fire protection services.

PRB coal is found in Wyoming. Low said PRB coal is used for energy because it contains low levels of sulfur.

Low said the selection process was in-depth and includes questions, an application and a site inspection by the PRB Coal Users Group board of directors.

Low said Tolk Station stands out because of the technology it uses and because it is a zero-discharge plant.

Computer software packages, such as Neuco and Zolo, operate the plant in such a way that technicians are aware of minuscule details and can make small adjustments to improve efficiency or emissions.

Controls technician David Head said the program learns the behavior of the boilers.

“There are 50 variables that impact the unit on any given day,” he said. “The program can adjust to make the burn more efficient. The more efficient we burn, the more we save our customers.”

The system is run via a control area complete with rows of computers. The system has multiple redundancies for back ups for both of the plant’s boilers.

“It’s not the spaceship, but we’re getting there,” Head said.

To achieve the status of a zero-discharge plant, Tolk uses water to the maximum.

“Water we bring in goes through 20 circulations before we are done with it and that’s the best we can do,” Low said.

After the water is used, it is pumped into retention bonds where the water evaporates.

The plant also uses nearby Plant X Generating Station’s water which translates into $80,000 a year in savings, Low said.

Low said the plant’s 108 employees garnered the station the recognition. He also said Savage Companies, which provides coal-handling services for the plant, contributed to the award by operating a well-run coal-handling facility.

Xcel Energy and Tolk Station will be recognized at a reception and power plant awards dinner in Baltimore on May 17.