In this Daily Planet file photo, Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s Nucla Station power plant is pictured. The plant and coal mine that feeds it will still be shut down by the end of 2022, as Tri-State recently announced the closures of its remaining New Mexico coal-fired power plant, Escalante Station, by the end of this year, and its Colorado coal plants and coal mine, Craig Station and Colowyo Mine, by 2030. (File photo)

Tri- State Generation and Transmission Association recently announced closures of its remaining New Mexico coal-fired power plant, Escalante Station, by the end of this year, and its Colorado coal plants and coal mine, Craig Station and Colowyo Mine, by 2030.

These closures will result in 100 percent reduction of coal emissions in both states, according to a news release. Tri-State also anticipates a 90 percent reduction in Colorado carbon by 2030.

Joanna Kanow, a member of the local Carbon Neutral Coalition and of Telluride’s Ecology Commission, called Tri-State’s decision “progressive.”

“Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a domino effect that puts an end to fossil fuel drilling and mining and replaces the need for energy with renewable sources like sun and wind,” Kanow said.

Tri-State is a not-for-profit power supply cooperative comprised of 46 members from four states delivering power to more than 1 million electricity consumers.

The closure of the power plants and mine will impact approximately 600 employees.

“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,” Tri-State CEO Duane Highley said in a news release.

The closure of Escalante Station, a coal power plant near Prewitt, New Mexico, will impact 107 employees who, Tri-State officials said, 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 and is working with the New Mexico Governor’s Office, legislative leaders and local communities in Cibola and McKinley counties to address the impacts of the transition, including workforce retraining and other economic development efforts.

Craig Station, a three-unit power plant located in Moffat County, Colorado, employs 253 people. Colowyo Mine, which employs 219 people and is located in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, produces coal used at Craig Station.

Tri-State is the wholesale electric power provider for local electric cooperative San Miguel Power Association (SMPA).  

Tri-State is also the sole owner of the coal-fired Nucla Station, which at its peak, employed about 125 people in the West End, according to Deana Sheriff, West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) executive director. Sheriff said the New Horizon Coal Mine started laying employees off a year ago while the power plant began transferring employees in September, when they officially closed the plant.

“Tri-State, to my knowledge, has not technically laid anyone off,” Sheriff said. “People have either transferred or are still at the plant awaiting the final closure. Tri-State has graciously kept them on the payroll while they make up their minds regarding their position.” 

Nucla Station employs 55 people and is scheduled to close in December of 2022.

The New Horizon Mine, which employs 28 people and supplies coal to Nucla Station, will cease coal production when the Nucla Station closes, though reclamation efforts at the mine will continue.

The West End economy, including Nucla, where SMPA is headquartered, will struggle to recover in the wake of the job losses.

"We are very supportive of Tri-State's Responsible Energy Plan, yet we also understand very personally the effect that these types of closures have on employees' families and their local communities,” SMPA CEO Brad Zaporski in an email to the Daily Planet. “It takes a very well-coordinated effort amongst all community stakeholders and others to mitigate the economic consequences of these types of closures.”

Sheriff said that it’s been a frustrating transition for the community and for employees who will remain at the plant until its final demolition.

“Many employees were looking at transferring to the Craig facility, placing their homes up for sale and preparing their children for a move,” she explained. “The recent announcement that portions of the Craig facility will close by 2030 have left these employees in a state of limbo.”

She added that houses are under contract in the West End and yet there’s no feeling of “safe employment” that would encourage people to purchase a home in Craig.

“There has been communication between Tri-State and their employees, but the communication with the communities of the West End has been limited, leaving all of us wondering what is really happening,” Sheriff said.

She added that representatives from Tri-State said last November the company would offer a transition fund of $500,000 to help the communities adapt to the closure of the plant, but Sheriff isn’t aware of where this fund will be housed or how it will be administered.

“The good news is that many of the remaining Tri-State employees have decided to stay in the West End and are in various stages of developing new businesses,” she said. “The community has faith that we will persevere through these uncertain times and come out stronger on the other side of the final plant closure.”