Unless you are one of the 60 employees at Nucla Station, October 10th will be your last chance to wish Howard Kettle well in his retirement and other post power plant endeavors as the veteran plant manager will officially hang up his Tri-State hard hat for the last time this evening, marking the end of a distinguished and successful 35-year career with the association.
The soon-to-be-retired plant manager started his utility career with Colorado-Ute Electric Association (the now defunct previous owner and operator of the plant) in 1977 as a janitor. At that time Nucla Station was a small, 1959 vintage, conventional coal-based plant producing 36 megawatts from three units.
By the early 1980s the plant staff of the aging facility was struggling to comply with increasingly stringent federal regulations and there were discussions about closing down the plant permanently when their coal contract expired in 1984.
However, the following year brought a new era to the old plant, when in 1985, with the technological support of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and financing from the U.S. Department of Energy, Nucla Station would become the site of the nation’s first utility scale application of the cutting edge circulating fluidized bed (CFB) boiler technology that promised many efficiencies and environmental benefits over conventional boilers. The re-powered, 110-megawatt Nucla Station was commissioned for commercial operation in 1987.
In 1992, Tri-State acquired Nucla Station as part of its acquisition of the assets, members and employees of Colorado-Ute. After it took over Nucla Station, Tri-State signed a contract to sell the plant’s output to Public Service Co. of Colorado. That contract expired last year.
To improve the performance of Nucla Station from a new technology pilot project to a commercial plant with availability above 90 percent, Tri-State invested $12 million on major component upgrades at the plant and through its subsidiary, Western Fuels-Colorado, invested in the development of New Horizon Mine as a long-term coal source for the station.
“The conversion to the CFB technology and the investments made by Tri-State were really the game-changers for all of us working at the plant,” recalls Kettle. “If those investments had not been made they might have closed down the plant and we would have all been without jobs,” he said.
The plant’s employees continued to earn environmental milestones in the 21st century. In 2008, Nucla Station became the first power plant in the state to be the recipient of the Bronze Environmental Leadership Award by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The following year, in 2009, the plant staff stepped up to the next level of excellence by garnering the Silver Environmental Leadership Award. Tri-State is the first electric utility in the state to be recognized with this achievement.
Kettle says he is proud of Nucla Station’s many achievements and successes, but he was quick to point out that none of it would have been possible without his dedicated and supportive staff.
The new retiree says he hopes that his new found freedom will bring a lot more opportunities to play golf and more time for his lifelong trade of carpentry. “I’ve already got some projects lined up,” he added.
Kettle was at the October Tri-State board meeting in Westminster last week to provide a history of the 53-year-old Nucla Station.