AP NEWS

Tri-State to close coal facilities in Colorado, New Mexico

January 9, 2020 GMT

DENVER (AP) — Two coal-fired power plants and a coal mine in Colorado and New Mexico will close, the utility Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced Thursday.

Tri-State, which serves 43 electric associations in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Nebraska, announced the closures as part of its Responsible Energy Plan, the Denver Post reports.

The utility plans to close the Escalante Station in New Mexico by the end of this year. It said it will close two units at the Craig Station plant in Craig, Colorado, and its operation at the Colowyo Mine in northwest Colorado by 2030.

The closures will affect about 600 employees and Tri-State plans to work with state and local officials to support them and their communities, the utility said.

Tri-State has come under pressure from its members and renewable energy advocates for its reliance on coal.

The company shut down its coal plant in Nucla, Colorado, last year ahead of its original closure target in 2022. It previously said it would close one unit of its Craig plant by the end of 2025.

“Serving our members’ clean energy and affordability needs, supporting state requirements and goals, and leading the fundamental changes in our industry require the retirement of our coal facilities in Colorado and New Mexico,” Tri-State Chairman Rick Gordon said.

Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis lauded the decision during his state of the state speech Thursday.

“Tri-State and its members announced that they will be replacing their remaining coal power in the state with thousands of megawatts of cheaper and cleaner renewable energy sources by 2030, resulting in a 90% reduction in the utilities’ in-state greenhouse gas emissions,” Polis said.

The Colorado Mining Association believes closing the coal facilities will hurt electricity customers in the state and the communities that have built economies around the industry.

“The lower costs afforded by plants such as Craig Station currently help to balance the increased costs of adding renewable energy and transmission to the system,” the association said in a statement.

In New Mexico, news of the planned closure of the Escalante Station came with little warning. State and local officials said they were concerned about the economic impacts the closure will have, especially in a rural region where jobs are scarce. A community meeting was planned for next week so officials could get a better handle on how many workers would be affected and what options Prewitt and the surrounding communities have for replacing the lost jobs.

“We have to do everything in our power to help the workers and communities affected by this closure,” said Bill McCamley, head of New Mexico’s Department of Workforce Solutions.

New Mexico last year adopted its own renewable energy mandates that call for utilities to be emissions-free by 2045. The law also aims to ease the economic pains of closing the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station near Farmington by providing $40 million in aid to the workforce attached to that plant and local economy.

“As we make the urgent and necessary transition away from coal, there are very real, immediate economic effects of Escalante’s closing to the surrounding pueblos, tribes and counties,” said Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter. “We are calling on Tri-State to support the impacted communities, who have committed decades to keeping our lights on.”

Tri-State said Escalante employees will receive a severance package, the opportunity to apply for vacancies at other Tri-State facilities, assistance with education and financial planning and supplemental funding for health benefits. Tri-State will also provide $5 million in local community support.