Closing of Unit 1 to impact coal production at Trapper and Colowyo | CraigDailyPress.com

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Closing of Unit 1 to impact coal production at Trapper and Colowyo

A Trapper Mine haul truck prepares to dump a load of coal near Craig Station.

The closing of Craig Station's Unit 1 by 2025 may also affect two Northwest Colorado coal mines.

"Once Unit 1 is retired, Craig Station will burn less coal to produce electricity," Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association spokesman Lee Boughey said. "As we go forward we will be evaluating the impacts that could have on the mines that supply the plant."

The 1,303-megawatt Craig Station, which is operated by Tri-State, receives all of its coal from two nearby mines just outside of Craig in Moffat County — Trapper Mine and Colowyo Mine.

The two surface mining operations produce coal exclusively for Craig Station, and shutting down the 427-meggawatt Unit 1 will alter coal production at the mines, Boughey said.

Trapper Mine Manager Jim Mattern said Trapper is contracted to provide coal to Craig Station through 2020, and it has additional reserves ready for development.

"It's going to be business as usual for us for the next few years, and we do have reserves that would take us beyond that date," he said.

Mattern said there are multiple variables that determine how additional reserves are developed such as the demand for power, regulatory environment and cost of natural gas.

At Colowyo, the Collom Area Development Project, which would give the mine access to another 79 million tons of federal coal, is still awaiting final approval from the Interior Department's assistant secretary for lands and minerals

"We continue to move forward with the Collom project at Colowyo Mine," Boughey said.

While the retirement date approaches over the next nine years, Boughey said Tri-State plans to introduce "transition teams" to study the impacts of the retirement on facilities, employees and communities.

"We're at the very beginning of that process, and the agreement that we reached gives us a significant amount of time to assess the issues, understand needs and act on those," he said.

Mattern said Trapper would be working with Tri-State throughout the process but it is sticking to the routine in the meantime.

"We're going to continue doing what we do best and that's just mine coal," he said.

The Moffat County Board of Commissioners and Craig City Council released a joint statement Tuesday stating that it is time to embrace change in Northwest Colorado.

"Our energy-based economy has and will be in the foreseeable future under constant pressure," according to the statement.

The two government entities said the nine-year timeline gives some breathing room and is on course with the current efforts to diversify the economy.

"We see a bright future ahead, just one that is different from what we know," said the statement.

In coal-reliant communities such as Craig, a splash in the coal industry quickly ripples into other areas of the economy.

Routine outages occur on a three-year cycle at each of Craig Station's three units and are an important economic event for the local lodging industry, bringing contractors from out of the area to Craig for an extended period of time.

"It makes a big difference," Elk Run Inn owner Randy Looper said.

With one less stack, there will be a gap every two years when no outage is scheduled, Craig Station manager Rich Thompson said. That means less contractors coming into Craig and less hotel rooms will be filled.

On two occasions in the past six years Craig Station did not undergo its normal outage, and Looper said he definitely noticed the difference for his business.

He said with nine years to prepare for the change, it would be his own fault if he didn't plan for the future.

"You just plan around it," Looper said. "It's not going to be great but there might be other things that make up for it."

Retiring the unit was part of agreement between Tri-State, PacifiCorp, Platte River Power Authority, Salt River Project, Public Service Company Colorado and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, WildEarth Guardians and the National Park Conservation Association to revise the state Colorado Visibility and Regional Haze State Implementation Plan.

Craig Station's three units each burn about 1.5 million tons of coal per year, Thompson said.

In addition to retiring Craig Station's Unit 1, the agreement shuttered Tri-State's coal-fired Nucla Station by 2022 and cease coal production at New Horizon Mine.

Tri-State employs 83 people between Nucla Station and New Horizon Mine and approximately 283 people at Craig Station.

In total, the agreement retires 520 megawatts of coal-fired electricity generation and "will eliminate more than five million tons of carbon pollution every year, equal to taking around one million cars off the road, and eliminate around 7,000 tons of haze and smog forming emissions," according to a news release from WildEarth Guardians.

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said Tri-State is hosting a meeting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 15 at Moffat County High School and CEO Mike McInnes will be present to discuss the situation and answer questions.

Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.