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Tri-State to close Colorado, New Mexico coal plants and mines

Tipton blames Democrats for loss of jobs
Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association closed the coal-fired Nucla Station in September, more than two years earlier than expected.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association will close its coal-fired power plants and mines in New Mexico and Colorado by 2030, the power provider that serves nearly 20 rural electric cooperatives in Colorado announced on Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and Sen. Cory Gardner, who represent voters on the Western Slope, immediately criticized the decision and lamented the loss of jobs.

Tri-State says it will close its Escalante Power Plant in Prewitt, New Mexico, by the end of 2020. It plans to close Craig Station and the ColoWyo Mine in northwest Colorado by 2030.

Tri-State has been pressured by its rural electric co-op members — including Brighton-based United Power and Durango-based La Plata Electric Association — to make a faster transition to renewable energy in recent years. The pair have sought to break up with Tri-State as a result of the power wholesaler’s reluctance to use more renewables and in seeking more say over their power sources.

Two co-ops have already negotiated exits from Tri-State. They are the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in Taos, N.M.

Tri-State, a Westminster-based, nonprofit power provider, retired its Nucla Station coal-fired power plant in September. The utility says the closures won’t cause electric rates to rapidly rise.

“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,” Rick Gordon, chairman of the board of Tri-State and a director of Mountain View Electric Association in eastern Colorado, said in a written statement. “As we make this difficult decision, we do so with a deep appreciation for the contributions of our employees who have dedicated their talents and energy to help us deliver on our mission to our members.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis touted the move in his State of the State address on Thursday morning, calling the news “exciting.”

“This announcement will result in a 90% reduction in the utilities’ in-state greenhouse gas emissions,” Polis said. “This transition means lower energy costs and savings, more renewable energy jobs and reduced air pollution. It’s a bold step to protect the future of the planet and to prepare Colorado to succeed in the future.”

U.S. Rep. Tipton, a Cortez Republican whose district include Craig Station and the ColoWyo Mine, blamed Democrats. About 600 positions will be impacted.

“Tri-State should provide training and placement services for those employees who will be impacted by this announcement, and the state of Colorado must do the same — and it needs to be comparable skills, opportunities and pay,” Tipton said.

U.S. Sen. Gardner, a Colorado Republican, echoed that sentiment. “This is terrible news for Craig and northwestern Colorado. These are well-paying jobs that for years have allowed surrounding rural communities to thrive,” he said in a written statement.

Tri-State says it will work with state and local officials to support affected employees and their communities during the transition.

“With 10 years until the closure of Craig Station and Colowyo Mine, we have additional time to work with the legislature, our employees and the communities in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties to plan for and support the transition,” Tri-State CEO CEO Duane Highley said in a written statement. “Our work starts now to ensure we can continue to safely produce power while working with stakeholders to thoughtfully plan for the future.”

Tri-State says it also plans to announce other renewable energy actions next week.

Escalante Station is a 253-megawatt coal power plant that began operations in 1984. Tri-State says employees there “will receive a generous 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.”

Craig Station is a 1,285-megawatt, three-unit power plant located in Moffat County that began operations in 1979. More than 250 people work there.

The Colowyo Mine, located in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, produces coal used at Craig Station and employs 219 people.

Tri-State operates in four states and has 46 members. It provides power to more than 1 million customers.

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