Northwest Colorado reacts to Obama’s Clean Power Plan |

Northwest Colorado reacts to Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Craig Station, located in Moffat County, is one of Colorado's largest coal fired power plants. It's operated by Westminster-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission.
Noelle Leavitt Riley

On Monday, President Barack Obama introduced the finalized Clean Power Plan at a White House event, labeling it the nation’s “biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”

According to the White House, “The final Clean Power Plan sets flexible and achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, 9 percent more ambitious than the proposal.”

States will be responsible for creating their own plans to meet the requirements and have the option of working with other states by trading in an emission-credit market.

The Clean Power Plan sets two options for how states evaluate emissions — rate-based and mass-based.

A rate-based plan looks at pounds of carbon dioxide produced per megawatt hour while mass-based considers overall CO2 emissions.

In 2012, Colorado produced 1,973 pounds of CO2 for every megawatt hour generated, meaning it will have to achieve a 40 percent reduction to meet the 2030 goal of 1,174 pounds per megawatt hour.

For a mass-based plan, Colorado would seek to reduce total emissions by 28 percent, reducing to 29.9 million short tons of CO2 in 2030 from 2012’s 41.7 million short tons.

Colorado’s goals under both categories are less stringent in the new plan, according to an EPA fact sheet.

According to the EPA document, “The 2012 baseline for Colorado was adjusted to be more representative, based on information that came in during the comment period.”

The final plan also moves away from the idea of using natural gas, which emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal, as a transition fuel. Electric utility companies are now expected to produce 28 percent of the nation’s capacity from renewable sources by 2030, as opposed to the originally proposed 22 percent.

As demonstrated by a federal court ruling poised to stop work at Colowyo Coal Mine, residents of Northwest Colorado take threats to the coal industry seriously.

“Why are we hamstringing our national economy and our Moffat County economy,” Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said.

According to Yampa Valley Data Partners, a nonprofit research organization, the top 10 taxpayers in Moffat County are energy related.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which operates Craig Station, the second largest coal-fired power plant in Colorado, is the number one tax contributor in Moffat County. In 2014, Tri-State paid $5,762,011 in taxes — accounting for almost one out of five dollars collected by the county.

Tri-State is an electric power supplier owned by 44 electric cooperatives. It generates and transmits electricity to its member systems throughout a 200,000 square-mile service territory across Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Lee Boughey, Tri-State’s senior manager of corporate communications and public affairs, said Tri-State has concerns about the plan but will work to minimize the impact on rural consumers and its employees.

Tri-State has added nearly 250 megawatts of renewable energy since 2008 and has plans to add another 226 by 2017, Boughey said. In 2014, Tri-State generated 1,866 megawatts from coal, 897 megawatts from natural gas and 863 from renewable energy resources.

Northwest Colorado is also home to another coal fired power plant. Hayden Station is located 23 miles east of Craig in Routt County and operated by Xcel Energy. Recently, Xcel initiated a $160 million project to improve emission controls at the plant.

Mark Stutz, Xcel spokesman, wrote in an email, “Xcel Energy currently is at a 26 percent reduction from 2005 carbon dioxide levels in Colorado, and we are on track to achieve a 35 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020.”

Peabody Energy Corp., the largest private-sector coal company in the world, has a presence in Northwest Colorado with Twentymile Mine. The mine, about 40 miles southeast of Craig in Routt County, employs around 340 people and sold 7.1 million tons of coal in 2014.

In a statement Peabody said the rule will “punish American families and businesses with higher energy costs and damage electric reliability, while having no notable benefit even under climate theory.”

Shares for Peabody hit a high of $72.71 in 2011 and have since plummeted 98.6 percent to $1.02 as of Tuesday afternoon.

Professor Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said coal is unlikely to be a part of the nation’s energy portfolio in the long-term with or without the new Clean Power Plan.

Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or Follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.

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