Two coal-fired power plants will close in Colorado, helping the environment but costing jobs

The Nucla Station power plant in southwestern Colorado and its coal supplier, the New Horizon Mine, will close by the end of 2022.
3 min. read

By Dan Elliott, Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — One coal-fired power plant in Colorado will shut down and part of a second plant will stop operating under an agreement that will make deep cuts in air pollution but cost at least 90 jobs over the next decade, officials said Thursday.

The Nucla Station power plant in southwestern Colorado and its coal supplier, the New Horizon Mine, will close by the end of 2022. A total of 93 people work at the plant and mine, and those jobs will eventually be eliminated, said Lee Boughey, a spokesman for Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which owns both.

Unit 1 of the coal-fired Craig Station power plant will shut down by the end of 2025, but two other units will keep operating with new technology to reduce pollution, Boughey said.

About 283 people work at the plant, but Tri-State doesn't yet know how many jobs will be eliminated, he said. Tri-State operates Craig Station, but other utilities own shares of the plant.

State health officials said the agreement is expected to reduce haze, cut carbon dioxide emissions by up to 4 million tons per year and remove thousands of pounds of other pollutants that contribute to ozone or cause health problems.

The agreement will cut emissions from the state's coal-fired power plants by about 9 percent, said Will Allison of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Craig Station Unit 1 can produce 427 megawatts of electricity, and Nucla can produce 100. Utilities that use the power have several years to adjust, Boughey said.

The agreement stems from a 2012 lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians over Colorado's plan to meet federal rules for reducing haze. A 2014 settlement required pollution controls on Unit 1 at Craig, but the parties to the lawsuit eventually decided it would be better to shut it down, along with the Nucla plant, said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy director for WildEarth Guardians.

He declined to say what led to the revision of the agreement.

Nichols called the agreement a big shift away from coal-fired electrical generation in Colorado.

"It's definitely a sign that the times are changing and more and more people are realizing its time for a transition," he said.

Tri-State said it will work with state and local officials to develop a transition team for the workers who lose their jobs and for the towns.

"We are part of these rural communities and understand the retirement of these units will affect our employees, their families, their communities and their very way of life," Tri-State CEO Mike McInnes said in a statement.

Nucla, which has only about 700 residents, will be devastated, town trustee Dorothy Reed said.

"Nucla's liable to dry up and blow away," she said. "The power plant and coal mine, that's about all we got."

Craig Mayor Ray Beck said the plant is the town's biggest taxpayer. "We're all going to feel the pain, no way of getting around that," he said.

Craig and surrounding Moffat County are looking for ways to attract more employers, he said. "We have a lot to offer. We're open for business," he said.

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