Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is shutting down all of its coal generation and mining operations in Colorado and New Mexico by 2030.

For its New Mexico asset, Escalante Station, cessation of operations will come by the end of the year. For Craig Station, a three-unit power plant in Moffat County, and Colowyo Mine, the closure is to come by 2030.

Tri-State says the move will help it comply with carbon-reduction requirements in both states and that the costs of accelerated write-offs for coal are being offset by the “dramatically reduced costs in solar and wind.”

The association’s CEO also said Tri-State is confident it can maintain stable rates and reliability.

“By year 2030, Tri-State will not operate any coal-based assets,” CEO Duane Highley said during a Thursday conference call with reporters. “These closures will have a huge impact on our employees.”

Between the two states, roughly 600 plant and mine employees are affected, along with their communities. Craig Station employs 253 people, while the mine employs 219. Escalante Station in New Mexico employs 107.

“We understand this is a shock to our employees,” Highley said. Tri-State is to provide $5 million in local community support and will be working with affected communities, as well as state legislatures.

Although the Colorado closure is more gradual, giving time to to work with the Legislature for the transition, “the work starts now,” Highley also said.

He said the company is working proactively with the Legislature to make sure it meets greenhouse gas obligations, while also maintaining stable rates, transitioning resources responsibly and providing certainty for members.

The news prompted U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to blast Colorado state energy policies advanced by Democrats in the Legislature and Gov. Jared Polis.

“The announcement that Craig Station and Colowyo Mine will be fully closed by 2030 is economically devastating for Craig and Moffat County,” Tipton said in a provided statement.

Tipton, a Cortez Republican, represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Montrose and Craig.

Tipton said 472 direct jobs will be lost and, based on the population of Moffat County, the economic hit is roughly equivalent to losing 98,000 jobs in the Denver metro area.

“Instead of implementing a responsible all-of-the-above energy plan that relies on free market innovation and technological advancement to drive cost and demand, Gov. Polis and State House Democrats forced the heavy hand of government to manipulate the market, end a source of affordable energy production, and kill jobs,” Tipton said.

“After all of that, Colorado will remain connected to the main power grid which will continue to rely on coal generation from other states. This loss of these jobs is on the governor’s hands and on each of those that voted for his plan. They should be forced to look these impacted families in the eyes and explain to them why they think their livelihoods are not important enough to save.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner called news of the closures “terrible,” as it means rural communities will shed well-paying jobs.

“The people that live and work in Craig and northwestern Colorado are some of the toughest and most resilient people I know, and I look forward to working on their behalf in the coming years as we fight for jobs and opportunity for every area of Colorado, not just on the Front Range," Gardner said, in a provided statement.

Polis in his State of the State address Thursday said Colorado is taking bold action to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 — and Tri-State’s announcement, along with activity associated with a Pueblo steel plant and the energy it consumes, shows that it’s already happening.

“This transition includes expanded energy efficiency programs and a significant investment in electric vehicle charging stations across rural Colorado,” Polis said, expressing optimism for more locally generated renewable energy.

“This transition will mean lower energy costs, more renewable energy jobs and reduced air pollution. It is a bold step to protect the future of the planet we must all inhabit,” he said.

“But we need to recognize the disruption caused to workers, families and communities that are impacted by the private sector’s turn away from coal. That’s why I intend to work with utilities including Tri-State and our new Office of Just Transition to expand opportunities in renewable energy and help ensure that no worker and no community is left behind.”

In response to reporters’ questions, Highley said Tri-State would like to see more action and much greater funding through the Office of Just Transition

Tri-State’s decision is part of its Responsible Energy Plan and the association is planning to announce additional information next week. The plan includes “significant” renewable energy additions, the not-for-profit cooperative said, in provided information.

Tri-State had three units at Craig. Station 1 was already shutting down, under a settlement agreement related to the state’s regional haze plan. Closure is still online for 2025.

The regional haze settlement also included the shuttering of Nucla Station on Montrose County’s West End, where closure had originally been set for completion in 2022. Tri-State, under the direction of its board, finished closures early by taking it offline in 2019.

Highley said in response to questions asked during the teleconference that Tri-State worked with affected communities and recognizes the need for support.

Craig Unit 2 had been set for closure in 2038 and Unit 3 was set for closure in 2044. The units now will close by 2030 and Colowyo will go into reclamation that year.

Tri-State owns 24 percent of Units 1 and 2 and must work with the member utilities that also have ownership. It also is part-owner of the Trapper Mine; Highley acknowledged the need for significant coordination in retiring the assets. He could not say whether Trapper Mine would remain open, because he cannot speak for other owners, but also said he anticipates it will be difficult for the mine to remain open when the market for its coal is no more.

Highley said more details will be forthcoming about the transition in Colorado and these include investing more in renewables, as well as supporting charging stations in rural areas.

Tri-State needs to provide training and job placement services for affected employees, and so must the state, Tipton said — ones entailing comparable skills, opportunity and pay.

He said his office is ready to help Craig at the federal level through economic development grants and resources.

Highley during the teleconference said Thursday was “a solemn day,” especially for employees, whose dedication he praised.

“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,” Rick Gordon, chairman of Tri-State’s board of directors said, in an official announcement.

Tri-State provided wholesale power to Delta-Montrose Electric Association, which last year secured a buy-out for its power contract and is departing the Tri-State cooperative.

“That’s a move they should have taken a long time ago,” DMEA board president Bill Patterson said, adding he is not certain where Tri-State will obtain the capital to close the plants. “It really doesn’t impact DMEA that much. We made our deal. We’re working on getting the final details done,” he said.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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