- Xcel Energy has formally complained to the federal Surface Transportation Board that, by not keeping up with scheduled coal deliveries, rail carrier BNSF is threatening grid reliability in the five state upper Midwest region provided by Xcel’s 2,500-megawatt Sherco coal-fired power plant.
- The Sherco plant is now 811,000 tons short on its ideal inventory, is not set up to burn natural gas, and, though it will continue generating base load power, could fail to meet a peak demand event.
- Utilities served by BNSF in Arkansas, Kansas and North Dakota have reported similar problems. Generation and transmission co-operative Dairyland Power said its coal supply is at "perilous levels" and falling further behind.
BNSF said the delays were caused first by harsh winter weather and then a freight volume surge but, with this year’s 200 added locomotives, 400 new employees, incentives to keep retirement-eligible personnel working, and $3.2 billion in new tracks and infrastructure, it expects to speed up operations.
The Sherco plant, Xcel’s biggest generation facility, supplies almost a quarter of the electricity the utility delivers to some 1.9 million customers in the five state region. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa political leaders have expressed concern and urged the Surface Transportation Board to work with BNSF to increase deliveries.
Dairyland Power, which recently had to truck coal to a plant when BNSF fell behind, said one of its plants could be out of coal by January if BNSF does not accelerate deliveries to the Iowa terminal where coal is loaded for barging.