Utilities: Local input key when power plants close

VAIL — Involving economic development officials and other local leaders is key to helping communities make the transition when coal power facilities close, utility representatives say.

Speaking Tuesday at an Economic Development Council of Colorado conference, an Xcel Energy representative cited as a successful example the process that led to Palisade recently acquiring land for a recreational shooting complex for the former Cameo power plant site. The town used state funding for the purchase and plans to lease the land to Colorado Parks and Wildlife to operate the complex.

Rob Osborn, director of regulatory affairs at Xcel, said the utility started a dialogue with entities including the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, which nurtured relationships and led to the concept of the shooting complex emerging.

“So now the town of Palisade is going to have this wonderful complex, the West Slope’s going to have this wonderful complex,” he said.

Drew Kramer, senior external affairs adviser with Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, hopes the same kind of local relationships can help the Craig area and Montrose County better weather Tri-State’s closure of coal facilities in those areas. Under a proposed regional haze agreement, Tri-State plans to close its Nucla Station in Montrose County and the nearby New Horizon Mine by the end of 2022, and to shut down one of three coal-fired generation units at its Craig Station by the end of 2025. Craig Station is powered by the Colowyo and Trapper coal mines. Tri-State owns Colowyo and is a co-owner of Trapper.

Kramer said Tri-State built strong relationships with local elected officials, economic development entities and others last year after a court order required a federal agency to redo Colowyo’s mining plan within 120 days to avoid a mine shutdown. Tri-State got the community to rally, send comments to the agency, enlist the help of Colorado’s congressional delegation and otherwise work to ensure the shutdown was averted.

“They all really rallied to our support, so we appreciated that and we worked very hard since then to build those relationships,” Kramer said.

Kramer said now that those relationships are established, Tri-State can better work with local leaders regarding how to make the transition easier once the unit at Craig Station closes.

“We really rely on local elected officials and economic development officials to tell us what they need and how we can contribute,” he said.

Kramer anticipates the same kind of relationships easing the transition in Montrose County, and Osborn likewise considers them important as Xcel is further reducing its coal-power portfolio and facing decisions about how to make good use of the property affected.

“We really have to work with communities to figure out what the best fit will be,” he said.

State and federal regulations and cheap natural gas are helping drive utilities to reduce their reliance on coal power. Osborn said a coal-to-gas retrofit at Xcel’s Cherokee Generating Station on the Front Range will reduce air pollutants from the plant by 70 to 80 percent. The retrofit’s cost is more than $500 million.


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