Almost $2.8 million available in regional Just Transition funds
Town of Hayden submitting $1 million request
Almost $2.8 million in state grant funding through the Office of Just Transition is being made available for projects to help the greater Yampa Valley move forward from its coal-fueled economy.
Wade Buchanan, director of the Colorado Office of Just Transition, said the funding is available in the tri-county area that is deemed one of four most affected “tier one” coal communities in the state. This initial state funding of $2.769 million is meant to help with long-term transition strategies due to the future closing of two coal-fired power plants and anticipated reduction in production at four coal mines in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.
The greater Yampa Valley region has six specifically named transition facilities, including Twentymile Mine and Hayden Station in Routt County, Trapper and Colowyo coal mines and Craig Station in Moffat County, and Deserado Mine in Rio Blanco County, Buchanan said. The coal-powered plants in Hayden and Craig are scheduled to close in sections between 2025 to 2030, as the U.S. gradually transitions to cleaner forms of energy.
Hayden Town Manager Mathew Mendisco said the town will submit a request to the transition office this month for $1 million toward the development of the Northwest Colorado Advanced Industry Business Park near the Yampa Valley Regional Airport that will target a variety of manufacturing sectors. Mendisco said the funding could be used to match federal grant requests and was supported unanimously by partners during a meeting earlier this month of the Northwest Colorado Development Council.
Routt County Commissioner Tim Redmond, who chairs the Northwest Colorado Development Council, reported the City of Craig also received unanimous support for a $450,000 grant request to the Office of Just Transition in support of a future solar array next to the Yampa Valley Electric Association property on the east side of Craig.
Rio Blanco County Commissioner Ty Gates said his county plans to submit a grant request for $320,000 later this winter in order to transform a currently vacant detention center in Meeker to a regional law enforcement training center.
The Office of Just Transition regional funding, part of a broader $15 million package from state House Bill 21-1290 last year, is available to a variety of entities such as nonprofit organizations, economic development districts, registered apprenticeship programs, cities or counties, school districts, and higher education institutions. Grant requests must be supported by 60% of the nine named entities in the affected area, including the city of Craig; towns of Hayden, Oak Creek, Yampa, Meeker and Rangely; and Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.
The local support requirement is meant to encourage thoughtful, long-term, cooperative and collaborative efforts in the region.
“We are hoping that communities are thinking regionally as they think about the transition away from coal, as much as we can collaborate in efforts to build a resilient and diverse local economy,” said Buchanan, who started as Office of Just Transition director in March 2020. “We would like to see a strategy or a collection of strategies that are consistent with one another and not competing with one another.”
The director said although the funding comes from the state, the projects must be locally driven strategies.
“The leaders we are working with seem very tuned in and focused on what the challenges are, and that is encouraging,” Buchanan said.
The current funding is earmarked to assist in six key areas: capacity building and long-term transition strategies; unique and time-limited business opportunities; strategically leveraging long-term private investment; unique and time-limited infrastructure opportunities; maximizing coordination and collaboration; and securing more and longer-term funding. More information is available online at CDLE.Colorado.gov/the-office-of-just-transition.
Each community in the tier one transition area should have or be developing a long-term transition strategy, and Office of Just Transition staff can assist with those plans, Buchanan said.
Buchanan said his office now has three full-time staff members assisting him, including a policy and engagement manager, community and economic development manager, and transition workforce program manager. Craig resident and business entrepreneur Kirstie McPherson was hired as the community and economic development manager.
Buchanan noted the Xcel Energy transition plan for Hayden Station has been transparent, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced plans last week for a third-party facilitated stakeholder engagement process to explore community assistance opportunities for Craig and Moffat County in preparation for the retirement of Craig Station by 2030. Tri-State agreed to submit a workforce transition plan for the Craig Station to the Office of Just Transition before the end of this year.
Buchanan noted regarding the four major mines in the region, “We have less of an understanding of when or how they will handle the transition.”
He said the mines are not regulated in the same ways as utilities, so mining company plans are “much less clear.”
“We are operating under the assumption that at least some of them will be closing around the timeline of the power plant closure, and certainly some will be downsizing,” Buchanan said.
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