Moffat County officials burn state bill as expediting closure of coal-fired power plants | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County officials burn state bill as expediting closure of coal-fired power plants

Ray Beck, left, and Chuck Grobe were among many at a 2013 rally in Denver promoting coal-fired power plants.
File photo

Officials in Craig will be watching the Colorado legislature on Monday.

Some may even travel to Denver to testify on a bill that seeks to do away with the state’s coal-fired power plants.

HB19-1037 — the Colorado Energy Impact Assistance Act — was sponsored by State Rep. Chris Hansen (D-Denver) and introduced Jan. 4. According to the Colorado General Assembly’s website, the bill seeks to authorize the public utilities commission to approve “transition assistance” bonds for Colorado communities to help retrain workers, subsidize electric rates and cushion tax revenue loss in order to lessen the economic blow when a coal-fired power plant closes.

“Transition assistance is defined to include payment of retraining costs, including costs of apprenticeship programs and skilled worker retraining programs, for and financial assistance to directly displaced Colorado facility workers, compensation to Colorado local governments for lost property tax revenue directly resulting from the retirement of a facility, and similar payments, job retraining, assistance, and compensation for directly displaced Colorado workers and local governments in areas that produce fuel used in the retired facility directly resulting from the elimination of the need for fuel at the facility,” the original bill’s summary reads. “The authority must disburse at least 50% of the transition assistance that it provides directly to Colorado workers.”

A redraft of the bill obtained by the Craig Press has that number amended to 30 percent directly to Colorado workers.

The bill also creates a new state agency — the Colorado Energy Impact Assistance Authority — whose main purpose is to “expend money received from electric utilities that are issuing CO-EIA (transition assistance) bonds…for the purpose of mitigating direct impacts to Colorado workers and communities resulting from the retirement of electric generating facilities.”

But many local officials in Craig and Moffat County aren’t happy about the prospect of closing coal plants and have written Colorado’s legislature in protest.

According to a Feb. 6 letter from Ray Beck and Andy Key, chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC), members of the group are opposed to HB19-1037, saying it “incentivizes private industry to accelerate the closure of coal-fired power plants in these communities.”

While the letter states members appreciate the legislature’s attempts to provide lost tax revenue relief and job training, AGNC believes “the provisions of HB1037 will fall far short of what will be necessary to assist these employees and communities.”

Beck, who also sits on Moffat County Board of County Commissioners, signed an additional protest letter from Moffat County’s commissioners to State Rep. Dominique Jackson (D-Aurora), chair of Colorado’s energy and environment committee. In the letter, Beck and Commissioners Don Cook and Donald Broom said HB19-1037 wouldn’t be good for Moffat County’s bottom line.

“Moffat County’s top 10 taxpayers make up 61 percent of Moffat County assessed value,” the commissioners’ letter reads. “Six of the top 10 taxpayers are directly tied to coal production and electricity generation from coal.”

Commissioners also aren’t convinced the bill’s worker training provisions will be enough to fend off a mass exodus of mine workers out of Moffat County once plants close.

“The practicality of retraining has proven ineffective in other coal affected communities in Colorado,” commissioners said in their letter. “The simple reality is skilled labor leaves a community to go to other communities where their labor is needed, rather than switching to what is often a lower paid career, if new jobs are even available in a coal-affected community.”

The language of HB19-1037 said at least 20 other states have used alternative financing methods since 1997 to keep down the cost to communities of retiring power plants.

In an interview Saturday, Beck said he plans to travel to Denver on Monday, Feb. 11 for a 1:30 p.m. hearing where he will testify in person along with Routt County Commissioner Douglas B. Monger.

“I’m actually going over my notes now,” Beck said Saturday morning.

Beck plans to give his presentation after video testimony from across the state, which will begin first at 1:30 p.m. He said while Routt County may have the most to lose under the bill, Moffat County could see serious economic implications.

“If this bill were to go through, I can see this having a trickle-down effect,” Beck said.

The bill is currently under consideration in the House Energy and Environment committee. Tuesday’s hearing will be held in room HCR0112, according to the Colorado General Assembly’s website.

Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or at cthorp@craigdailypress.com.