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First Hybrid CSP-Coal Power Plant is Fired Up in Colorado

July 23, 2010

On June 30, Xcel Energy began operating an experimental power plant near Grand Junction, Colorado, that will test how concentrating solar power (CSP) can help a coal plant use less coal and produce the same amount of energy. The plant, called Cameo, uses a hybrid system of a previously existing 44-megawatt (MW) coal plant and a 4-MW CSP installation. It is the first such integration of coal and CSP in the United States.

The CSP system consists of eight rows of 500-foot-long parabolic troughs covering 6.4 acres. The trough system concentrates solar energy onto tubes filled with mineral oil, which is pumped to a heat exchanger located within the coal plant and used to heat the boiler feedwater. The solar energy supplied to the feed water heaters supplement steam produced by combusting coal in “low-NOx” burners—that is, burners that produce less nitrous oxide, a major greenhouse gas and air pollutant. Steam from the boiler turns turbines that run a generator, which produces the electricity.

Xcel anticipates that the project will increase the power plant's efficiency by up to 5% and will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2,000 tons per year. Furthermore, Cameo is expected to test the commercial viability of integrating coal plants with CSP.

Testing should be completed by the end of this year, when the Cameo plant will be shut down.

The project was built between September 2009 and February 2010 and cost $4.5 million. The parabolic trough system was designed by Abengoa Solar. Research to develop the collectors was supported with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Program. Cameo is Xcel Energy's first demonstration project under the company's Innovative Clean Technology program.

To learn more, watch a video of the June 30 ribbon-cutting ceremony, posted by KREX TV, Channel 5 of Grand Junction.  Additional information and a video overview are available on the Colorado Integrated Solar Project page on the Xcel Energy Web site.