An Oregon-based utility on Thursday released a draft long-term energy plan to further shift its power portfolio toward more renewable sources and accelerate the planned closure dates of several coal-fired generation units, including one at the Craig Station in Moffat County.
PacifiCorp's draft plan envisions Unit 2 at the Craig Station being closed in 2026 rather than 2034. The proposal would require buy-in from other utilities that are partners in the ownership of that unit, but if carried out would come as a further blow to the coal-reliant economy in Moffat County. Already, Unit 1 at the station is scheduled to be shut down by the end of 2025 under a legal settlement to address regional haze concerns. The power plant is supplied by two local coal mines, Colowyo and Trapper, and the mines and plant account for hundreds of well-paying local jobs.
The same legal settlement also required Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to close its Nucla Station generation plant in western Montrose County by the end of 2022, but it accelerated that plan and retired the plant last month, after previously closing the local mine supplying it.
Tri-State also operates the Craig Station, and like PacifiCorp and other utilities is going through a transition toward more wind and solar power as the cost for those resources falls and pressure grows from customers and regulators to use cleaner sources of energy than coal.
In a news release, PacifiCorp said its draft plan "demonstrates the company's adoption of additional lower-cost renewable resources to meet customer needs and support for its phased coal transition."
The utility is proposing tapping new solar and wind projects in several Western states. It also plans to supplement these resources with new battery storage.
Its proposal doesn't change PacifiCorp's previously established goal of a 2030 retirement date for two generating units at the Hayden Generating Station in Routt County, based on PacifiCorp's 2017 energy plan. It is a partner in that facility, which is operated by Xcel Energy and supplied by coal from Peabody's Twentymile Mine in Routt County.
Tri-State also is pursuing a new long-term energy plan with a focus on transitioning to more clean-energy sources. But the wholesale power provider to local electricity cooperatives said in a statement Thursday that there has been no decision on the early retirement of Craig's Unit 2.
"Any decision on an early retirement of this unit must be agreed upon by all owners," Tri-State said. "As we develop our Responsible Energy Plan to comply (with) state and federal regulations, we will continue to work with PacifiCorp and the other owners as we plan our transition to a cleaner energy portfolio in a reliable, affordable and responsible manner."
PacifiCorp's existing plans to retire both Hayden units by 2030 likewise hinge on the ability to get buy-in from other utilities. Besides Xcel, the Arizona-based Salt River Project also is a partner in that plant.
Xcel spokesperson Michelle Aguayo released a statement from the company saying that currently, "the Hayden units have asset lives through 2030 and 2036."
Xcel last December announced goals to achieve an 80 percent carbon reduction by 2030 "and a zero-carbon system by 2050 within the guardrails of reliability and affordability," its statement said. "As part of our resource planning activities under the oversight of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, in our next Electric Resource Plan we will present a plan to achieve those carbon reduction goals."
Anna McDevitt, with Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado, said in a statement, "As Tri-State and other Colorado utilities consider how to power our communities into the future, it is clear we need to move off coal.
"The Craig and Hayden units are the most expensive coal plants in Colorado," she said, alluding to the findings of a report prepared for the Sierra Club. "Other states don't even want Colorado's coal electricity; why do we?"
Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck said the county's top 10 taxpayers are all energy-based, accounting for 61% of the county's assessed value, and PacifiCorp ranks second on that list behind Tri-State.
Beck said the county doesn't believe renewables are going to replace coal or be cheaper in the long run. He said electricity demands will be increasing as populations grow and there is a shift to things such as electric-powered vehicles.
"I don't see how we are going to support that increased demand just on renewables," he said.
He said the county supports an all-of-the-above approach to meeting that future demand, including coal. "I think coal is going to have to be part of that as we transition in a different direction," he said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with clarified and more detailed references regarding potential closing dates for the Hayden plant units.