DENVER (CBS4)- Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced Thursday its plan to retire three facilities by 2030, two of them in Colorado. The closures affect approximately 600 workers total.
A press release from the company described its intent to transfer from coal-generated power to renewable sources. Tri-State already draws from five natural gas power plants, four solar farms, and five wind farms.
"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," said Rick Gordon, chairman of the board of Tri-State and a director of Mountain View Electric Association in eastern Colorado. "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."
The company's power-generating station in Craig will be closed in increments. Tri-State announced in 2016 that the first of the Craig Station's three units would close by 2025; that plan remains unchanged. The other units will now close by 2030.
The Colowyo Mine near Meeker which supplies the Craig Station with coal will shut down by 2030 as well. A reclamation project will take over at that time.
Additionally, the coal-fired Escalante Generating Station in Prewitt, New Mexico, will cease operations by the end of this year.
Tri-State previously retired its coal capacity at Nucla Station in western Colorado in 2019.
Tri-State is an electrical supply cooperative, supplying public power districts and smaller electric co-ops, that owns or operates more than 5,665 miles of high-voltage lines in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Arizona.
"Our focus is on making these changes with the care and respect our employees and their communities deserve – easing the transition whenever and wherever possible," said Duane Highley, chief executive officer of Tri-State.
Dennis Dougherty, Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, worried Thursday that the company's commitment alone may not be enough to guarantee employees' recovery.
"Colorado is going through a difficult transition away from coal," Doughterty stated. "It will impact well-paid Union members from those who haul coal in trains, mine the coal, and work in the power plants. These careers are in rural communities that cannot absorb job losses like our urban areas. Finding work with similar pay and benefits could take years of retraining at a significantly reduced income. Although the Office of Just Transition was just created last year, this closure demonstrates the urgent need to get it funded."
A representative from the local chapter of the employees' labor union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, expressed concern for the plants' employees.
"While we appreciate their desire for clean air," Richard A. Meisiger, Business Manager for IBEW 111, stated, "we would like to do as we did with Xcel Energy last year. IBEW Local Union 111 would like to structure and place safeguards for the affected workforce and ensure construction of renewable energy work is done with in-state, well-trained, skilled labor like our members we represent."
The announcement complemented Colorado Governor Jared Polis's State of the State address, also delivered Thursday. The governor cited the Tri-State decision as part of an ambitious plan to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions.
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