Driven by Colorado’s Clean Air/Clean Jobs Act (see Daily GPI, April 20, 2010) prompting the closing of older coal-fired power plants, Xcel Energy Inc. said Thursday it has completed a $110 million 34-mile, 24-inch diameter natural gas pipeline to serve a still-to-be-completed gas-fired generation plant.

Under the law, Xcel is spending around $1 billion for conversions of coal-fired plants, new facilities and new emissions controls on its fleet of in-state electric generation plants. The pipeline is interconnected to two major supply lines coming into a gas hub at Fort Lupton, CO — an Xcel intrastate pipeline and a Kinder Morgan interstate line.

The new pipeline that began operations this week is the largest gas project by Xcel’s Denver-based Public Service Co. of Colorado utility in the past 20 years. It eventually will provide fuel for the 569 MW gas-fired Cherokee Generating Station north of Denver. Cherokee is scheduled to come online in the spring next year.

The new pipeline also will fuel an existing 352 MW unit in 2017 on the Cherokee site when it is switched from coal to natural gas, said a Denver-based Xcel utility spokesperson, adding that the line will comply with the latest standards and safety requirements. It includes seven automatic shut-off valves that will be monitored 24 hours daily.

Starting at a new metering station near Fort Lupton, the new pipeline runs into the Denver metropolitan area’s northeast side at the power plant site near Commerce City, CO. The pipeline travels through parts of Adams and Weld Counties and through Brighton, Commerce City and Fort Lupton.

Under the four-year-old state law (HB 1365) Xcel’s utility was mandated to replace 900 MW of coal-fired capacity with natural gas and alternative fuels, and so far two coal-fired plants have been retired, the spokesperson said. A third coal-fired unit will be retired next year, and when the fourth unit is converted in 2017, all of the Cherokee plant will be gas-fired.

David Eves, CEO at Xcel’s Public Service Co., called the new pipeline “an important milestone” in Xcel’s ongoing efforts to improve air quality in the state under the 2010 law and to meet federal greenhouse gas emissions standards.

“The Cherokee plant is one of several efforts in our Colorado service territory to reduce our power plant emissions, while improving our ability to provide safe and reliable service,” Eves said.