Black Hills Corp. shuttered a unit at a coal-fired power plant outside Gillette last week, the latest in a series of moves by the Rapid City-based utility aimed at revamping its aging coal fleet.

The retirement of the 22-megawatt Neil Simpson 1, one of five coal units at the Wyodak Neil Simpson complex, had long been planned. All eight of the unit’s full-time employees were transferred elsewhere within the company. And much of the facility’s power will be replaced by a new 132-megawatt natural gas plant, which is scheduled to open in Cheyenne later this year.

Still, the closure underlined a recent trend that has seen utilities nationwide move away from older coal-fired facilities in favor of new natural gas powered plants. Black Hills will decommission three coal units in 2014 -- two in Wyoming and one in Colorado. A third coal unit in South Dakota will be decommissioned next year.

Black Hills officials said the closures were a response to recent Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at reducing harmful emissions from industrial boilers and curbing mercury pollution.

“Replacing Black Hills Power’s three oldest coal-fired power plants is less expensive for customers than retrofitting the plants to comply with the new EPA standards,” said Sharon Fain, a utility spokeswoman. “Although these plants were once built with state-of-the-art technology, they are now 42-62 years old. It would be very expensive to update these plants to meet new EPA requirements, and newer technology used on new plants can now better reduce emissions.”

The rash of retirements was hailed by environmentalists, who said it was evidence utilities were bowing to the reality that coal-generated electricity is dirty and inefficient. But they were decried by coal backers who argued it was a sign of the Obama administration’s “war on coal.”

“The government has picked winner and losers in the EPA process and picked coal as a loser. Our power is going to cost more, and it is all because of government policy,” said Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican. “This really hits everyday Americans directly in the pocketbook.”

Yet such regulations merely transfer the costs of pollution from society to industry, said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director at Widearth Guardians, an environmental group. He cited mercury pollution as an example, noting that mercury pollution can impair the development of fetuses, among other health risks.

In closing a unit like Neil Simpson 1, Black Hills is acknowledging that the cost of that pollution is too high and is pursuing a cleaner alternative, he said.

“Energy is about trade-offs, without a doubt. I think mercury pollution is not an acceptable option,” Nichols said. “The last thing we want is a pregnant mother to be exposed to mercury. That is not a cost I think society wants to shoulder today.”

Neil Simpson I was closed March 19, Black Hills officials said. Decommissioning of the unit will begin in the fourth quarter of 2014 and is scheduled to finish by the second quarter of 2015. The utility also has plans to begin decommissioning the Osage plant this year. The 34.5-megawatt coal fired unit in northeastern Wyoming has been idle since 2010.

Two coal units at W.N. Clark plant in Canon City, Colo., will begin decommissioning this year, while the 25-megawatt coal unit at the Ben French power plant in Rapid City will be decommissioned next year.

All the plants have two things in common: They are old and relatively small. None was installed after 1969 and none produces more than 40 megawatts of power. Neil Simpson II, by comparison, was commissioned in 1995 and generates 90 megawatts of electricity.

The Cheyenne Prairie Generating Station is scheduled to go online Oct. 1. The $220 million facility is on schedule and on budget, Fain said. The costs of the facility will be borne by Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power customers, she said. The utility is a subsidiary of Black Hills Corp.

Reach energy reporter Benjamin Storrow at 307-335-5344 or Follow him on Twitter @bstorrow

(17) comments


More handwriting on the wall for burning Coal.

Does anyone in Wyoming know how to read ?


This Nichols guy is looney. His "fetuses everywhere are suffering because of a coal unit in Gillette" argument reminds me of the Direct TV commercials where Grandpa gets punched over a cam of soup.

Where do these quacks come from, and who educates them?? A village somewhere in the east or in California is missing one of its indoctrinated lemmings.

Meanwhile we all suffer with higher prices on our energy bills.


Wyoming is one of the biggest energy producers in the nation, so people when are you going to stand up and say no more. Dam the EPA and their paid for Politicians and say we were fine until the money grubbers got their hands on Wyoming? 2008 we were sold out.... still like our leaders?


Who made the decision to close the plant? How do they plan to replace the KWs lost with the closing? That is the handwriting on the wall.


It's a very small plant which is easily replaced by excess capacity on the grid or by ramping up other more efficient units in the system. It's literally a rounding error. This equates to selling a 70 year old jalopy or putting a sick old dog to sleep.

The truly scary part if the issue is the number of very large units across the nation being retired due to the extreme cost of mandated environmental upgrades.

One promise this president made in his 2008 campaign that he has absolutely followed through on is his promise to kill coal. He looked us in the eye, told us what he intended to do, and he is doing it.

The only thing missing is a photo op at a mothballed coal plant with a "Mission Accomplished" banner as a backdrop.

Sadly coal is dead on its feet. It will be a slow, miserable, lingering and painful death but death nonetheless.


Who said what?


For Pete's sake Pete.

I might not have gotten it verbatim but I certainly captured what he stated. He also said if you want to build a coal plant that's fine, but we will bankrupt you.

Spin it any way you want but new regulations by this administrations EPA are killing coal.

What I said about the unit in Gillette is true.

You wondered why the plant shut down and how that capacity is being replaced and I told you.

I am truly sorry you didn't like the answer. If you will preface your queries with the answer you would like to hear I will be more than happy to parrot those back and validate your opinion.


Wyopoke, you read neither the politifact article, nor the news article. What were you spinning?


For Pete's sake just google Barack Obama coal comments.


Depends upon what one cherry picks from Google. For example, you are using Obama's comments about Cap & Trade--incomplete as they may be--to support an argument of a different stripe at a different moment. It appears as if you were caught up in the anger and excitement of the Senate Minority Leader's distortion of the "war on coal" comment, distortion that stands in for fact. Read the Coyote's comments on the market forces at work in the energy business; he reflects facts better than the sources that appeal to you. Why do you not explain that the coal business is in better shape than ever before, with expanding overseas markets, favorable state legislation, and in the case of Wyoming, non-competitive leasing.? Obama has said that much, if you care to examine his comments a bit more closely.


You are correct these were economic decisions and as you can see from my previous post I agree it was time to shut this clunker down.

However, the economics of EPA mandates is forcing the closure of newer and larger coal plants nationwide. They are literally "bankrupting" coal as promised.

Gas turbines are coming on line to replace this capacity for the most part.


Wyopoke, read the EPA regulation. They are not requiring compliance on existing plants until the "natural life"--determined by the owners--of the facility runs out. These plants are not being replaced by coal fired generators because it is cheaper to go with gas for both construction and operation. See the comment about coal ash by jc45. There has not been an application for a new coal-fired generating plant since the early George W. Bush years. You are still having problems with the "bankrupting" talking point; that was in reference to the Cap & Trade proposal that was bipartisan until Obama used it in the 2008 campaign.


No more painful than for those breathing the emissions.


I guess that depends if you are losing your job or not.


Compare the number of deaths from emission caused health issues with the number of lost jobs. How many beats zero?

Cody Coyote

The decision to close the Simpson coal boiler unit was primarily a market decision , not a political hammering. That fact went " whoosh " by the ossified heads of our leaders.

I really want to beleive that Wyoming's lone representative in Con gress is not ignorant, but Cynthia Lummis shows time and time again she is either intellectually challenged, or totally a hand puppet and mouthpiece for industry special interests .

She missed the obvious here when she goes off on Obama and EPA and job killing economics and all that other Republican blah blah blah. Yes, BHP is closing one unit opf a 60 year old coalburning plant. Nobody loses an jobs...the 8 employees there got a sideways transfer. We lose a mere 22 megawatts of generation , but BHP's NEW pwoerplant in Cheyenne burns natural gas and has 6 times the generation capacity. it will also buy and use Wyoming gas and thus help support both price and sustainability of our state domestic gas production.

But Lummis got none of this. Whoosh !! She chose instead to fire off a tirade against Obama Inc and EPA , to appease her coal puppeteers I would suppose. It all flies in the face of the facts on the ground, the boardroom, and the real world market forces.

Lummis continues to embararss Wyoming.


20+ years ago when I had to change jobs due to the oil and gas bust, I went from working in the oil and gas sector to the coal sector. I was told early and often by the old time coal hands that natural gas was the biggest threat to the coal industry but as long as gas was expensive it would not replace coal. Now that gas is both plentiful and less expensive, gas is taking a larger portion of the electricity generation market.
The first coal fired plants to go are the older, smaller and less efficient plants like Neil Simpson 1. Electric utilities are building new gas fired plants for economic reasons. The new gas fired plants are cheaper to build and operate and there is almost no ash to dispose of.

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