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Mercury & Other Hazardous Substances

Our Approach

Through our proactive clean energy strategy, we are retiring aging coal units and replacing them with wind and solar energy and cleaner natural gas plants. As a result, releases of mercury and other hazardous substances are down, along with carbon emissions and other environmental impacts from our operations.

In addition, we have worked with state and federal regulators for years to monitor, regulate and reduce power plant mercury emissions. Our company was one of the first in the country to install continuous emission monitoring systems for mercury at several power plants and eventually install controls.

We annually report these emissions through EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory program, which shows that overall all of our releases are down 25 percent compared to 2005 levels.

Mercury and Air Toxics

EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) are the first national emissions standards for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal and oil-fired generating units. Under MATS, generating units greater than 25 megawatts must meet emission limits. Xcel Energy is well positioned for MATS compliance.

Specifically, MATS applies to mercury, acid gases (hydrochloric acid) and non-mercury metals, such as arsenic, beryllium and lead. Here are ways we have met the standards in all our operating regions:

After MATS took effect for the industry, the Supreme Court decided in June 2015 that EPA must consider cost in its justification for the standards. The rules remained in effect while EPA worked on their cost analysis. In April of 2016, EPA issued its supplemental finding that it is appropriate and necessary to regulate hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fueled generating units. While others have filed legal challenges to the supplemental filing, Xcel Energy is not challenging it. We will continue to monitor developments in relation to this standard. In spring of 2017, the court put this litigation on hold while EPA evaluates what, if any, changes to make to it.

Community Right to Know and the Toxic Release Inventory Program

For three decades, EPA has administered the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act or EPCRA. The program is intended to help communities protect residents from potential chemical hazards. Under EPCRA, residents have the “right-to-know” about chemicals in their communities. Each year facilities in specific industries that manufacture, process or use the nearly 650 substances identified under the program must report their releases to air, land and water. The EPA manages the information in a publicly available database under the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program.

Xcel Energy supports this type of reporting. We report to EPA annually our releases, which are the result of using coal, oil and refuse-derived fuel (processed municipal solid waste) to produce electricity. These fuels contain trace amounts of TRI reportable substances, including barium, chromium, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel and zinc. When fuels are combusted, they release these substances. We report releases by facility, and a facility’s releases may change slightly from year-to-year since they are based on the amount of electricity produced and the associated fuel that is consumed. Releases also may vary because of minor differences in fuel composition and mineralogy depending on the mine or other fuel source.

The majority of our TRI releases are controlled at our facilities as part of the combustion residuals or coal ash that we capture and prevent from entering the air. We capture about 80 to 90 percent of these substances and safely dispose of them in managed landfills, along with the coal ash where they are contained. Some of the ash we capture is reused for beneficial purposes, such as concrete products, roadbed material and other encapsulated uses.

TRI releases disposed in managed landfills have generally increased because the pollutants are captured by new air emission controls instead of released to the atmosphere at some of our coal-fueled power plants and as a result of changing regulatory requirements. In total since we began TRI reporting, we have reduced TRI releases as we retire aging coal plants and repower them with natural gas or replace the energy with wind and solar power.

Since 2005, our TRI releases have been reduced by 25 percent.

2015 TRI Releases

2014 TRI Releases

2013 TRI Releases

Releases provided here are from 12 generating plants in locations throughout our service territory. For individual plant information visit the EPA’s TRI Explorer website or contact

Additional Links

Learn more about Xcel Energy’s efforts to reduce air emissions and carbon dioxide emissions.

Find information about how we manage coal ash.

Mercury & Other Hazardous Substances (PDF)

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