Just Transition meeting a time for state to listen closely to Craig and Moffat County’s needs | CraigDailyPress.com

Just Transition meeting a time for state to listen closely to Craig and Moffat County’s needs

The Just Transition Office and the Coal Advisory Committee will host an open house meeting Wednesday, March 4 at Craig Middle School from 6-8 p.m.
Courtesy Photo

In an effort to better understand the future needs and wishes of northwest Colorado in light of the impending coal mine and power plant closures, the Just Transition from Coal Advisory Committee, and a handful of other state agencies, are extending an olive branch of sorts to Moffat County and its residents.

The Just Transition from Coal Advisory Committee, along with Governor Jared Polis’ Administration, the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, and other state agencies will hold an open community meeting Wednesday, March 4 from 6-8 p.m. in the cafeteria at Craig Middle School.

The Just Transition Advisory Committee says it wants to hear and learn from community members on how the state can best support Craig, Moffat County, and surrounding areas through the upcoming energy transition from fossil fuel to clean energy by 2040.

“This is really the advisory council’s first community setting,” said Cher Roybal Haavind, the Department of Labor and Employment’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Communications Officer. “This is really going to be a listening tour. We really want to hear from community members how the state can be supportive moving forward.

“We don’t want to come into the areas impacted and create a plan right away,” Haavind added. “Listening is our number one intention with this meeting; we need to listen to local concerns first, and then develop a plan based on community thoughts.”

The Office of Just Transition was created by a law passed by the state Legislature last year. The creation of the office came shortly after lawmakers passed bills addressing climate and energy generation in the state, as Gov. Polis launched a push for the state to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

On Jan. 9, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced it will close all of its coal-fired power plants and mines in New Mexico and Colorado by 2030. The power provider serves nearly 20 rural electric cooperatives.

Tri-State announced the closure of its Escalante Power Plant in Prewitt, New Mexico, by the end of 2020. It plans to close Craig Station Units 2 and 3, and the Colowyo Mine in northwest Colorado by 2030.

The announcement from the Westminster-based power provider comes on the heels of pressure by two of its rural electric co-op members, including Brighton-based United Power and Durango-based La Plata Electric Association, in hopes of making a faster transition to renewable energy in recent years. The pair have sought to break up with Tri-State as a result of the power wholesaler’s reluctance to use more renewables and in seeking more say over their power sources, according to previous Craig Press reporting.

That announcement also affected Trapper Mine in Moffat County, which provides coal for Unit 1 at Craig Station. With the impending closure of the plant, Trapper Mine will close between 2026 and 2030, according to President and General Manager Michael Morriss.

Due to the future jobs lost from the closures, the Office of Just Transition created an advisory committee in the hopes a developing a just transition plan by the end of 2020.

According to a press release from the Just Transition office, the bill creating the office requires that plan to include information and recommendations concerning proposed benefits for former coal workers to help them support themselves and their families, including through access to education and training leading to high-quality jobs, while also addressing strategies to help affected communities, and grants and other funding to help them create more diversified economies.

“This meeting isn’t about educating the public; it’s about learning from the public,” said Cally King Newman, Policy Facilitator for the Keystone Policy Center, which is involved with Just Transition. “Ideally, we’d like to break up into small groups of 10-15 people each and allow those from the advisory committee to hear from those groups directly. From there, we’ll have some pointed questions around what concerns people the most, where do they see gaps, what they see happening in the community already. We also want to know from the community what [they envision] it would look like for the state to come in and help, and what that should look like moving forward.”

Breaking into small groups might not be feasible for the meeting, considering the community expectation for the meeting is to have roughly 700 people in attendance to voice their concerns and frustrations.

One concerned and frustrated community member that has been vocal throughout the entire process has been former Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid.

Kinkaid hopes to see the community turn out in droves on Wednesday night to show those from the state level and the Front Range that the people of northwest Colorado are going to fight for their community and for their future.

“Showing up in numbers demonstrates to the Polis administration just how serious this is and how committed we are to our community, our county, and the northwest portion of the state,” Kinkaid told the Craig Press. “We want a bright economic future rather than a dismal slowdown. This is our future and we need to fight for it.”

Despite the outreach from the Office of Just Transition to try and better understand the needs and concerns of northwest Colorado – especially Moffat County – Kinkaid is worried Wednesday’s meeting is just a setup to check a box for the office and then move on.

“I just get the feeling that the governor and the state legislature have not thought this the whole way through, and have not thought about the consequences of their actions through no fossil fuel,” Kinkaid said. “They either made this commitment in a hasty manner, or they have thought it through and just don’t care.

“I’m afraid that the efforts are going to be insufficient and ineffective to keep us from going into a severe recession. I’m hoping to come away with a sense that the Polis Administration will be putting all hands on deck to help our community, and all of northwest Colorado.

“If so, we should expect those at the state level pushing this to make Moffat County whole financially,” Kinkaid added. “If they can’t make Moffat County whole financially, then they need to back off, say we didn’t think this through, and let us continue to operate what we have here unhindered.”

For more information on the Just Transition Office and Advisory Committee, please visit online at JustTransition.cdle.co.

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