State of the community includes updates from Office of Just Transition, mines, power plant

A sign advocating for the coal industry hangs outside Tunies and Such in Craig, Colorado on Dec. 17, 2021.
Photo by Billy Schuerman / For the Craig Press

Moffat County’s local energy industry is looking at a rapidly shortening future, while the community that’s left behind and the state agency tasked with helping it recover from the loss of that industry are just getting started.

In addition to city and county updates at Wednesday’s State of the Community event, energy leaders presented 2021’s impact on local production, including updates from the Office of Just Transition, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and Trapper Mine.

Office of Just Transition Director Wade Buchanan said that $15 million has been allocated for OJT in 2021, and, if the governor’s current budget gets through the legislature, another $5 million would go to help the Office of Economic Development with transitioning communities. He also said he was “very optimistic” with ongoing funding that an impact can be made.

“(The state legislature) made some cuts at the beginning of COVID, and it turns out they had some money to put back in the budget at the end of the last fiscal year,” Buchanan said Wednesday. “So we are the recipients of $15 million, which we are able to use on behalf of (transitioning communities).”

As part of an action plan created with an advisory committee composed of local and state leaders, Buchanan said there are two main goals. The first goal, he said, is to replace what is going away — including well-paying jobs and property taxes — when the coal power plants close by the end of the decade. The other goal is increasing economic diversity in transitioning communities, especially since close to 1,000 jobs will be lost between Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties after 2029.

“It’s also a fairly common experience for smaller communities, rural communities, that are dependent on one employer or sector to employ a pretty large number of jobs,” Buchanan said. “Part of the answer to that would be as we’re looking to the future, try and work toward some (economic diversity) so instead of 100 workers working at one facility, you got 10 workers working at 10 different facilities. That gives us a level of stability.”

Community members also heard from Tim Osborn, plant manager of Craig Station. Osborn spoke of the first phase of the approved settlement between Tri-State and various other stakeholders that was approved by the Public Utilities Commission. As part of the first phase of the settlement, there will be modeling as to how and when Tri-State can meet its emissions cuts goal between 2026 and 2029, including a model for a closure date in 2026. Osborn said they will not know the outcomes for those models until the end of 2022.

“At Craig Station, we’re going to continue to make affordable, reliable electric energy for the members. That’s what we’re here to do. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do for as long as we can,” Osborn said. “One of the challenges that we have, and since 2016, with the announcement of retirement of Craig Unit 1, we have about 110 fewer employees at the plant. So that challenges us to get the work done that we need to get done. So there’s lots of impact. We know that in this community, and we understand that there’s a lot of impact there.”

Wade Buchanan of the Office of Just Transition speaks to the audience during the State of the Community in Craig at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion Wednesday.
Eliza Noe / Craig Press

Osborn also said that ColoWyo Mine has maintained its employee base at approximately 200 employees in 2021.

“They have projected about 2 million tons to be delivered to the power plant this year,” he said.

Sean Hovorka, production superintendent at Trapper Mine, said that 2021 was a year of significant changes for the coal producer. A major reduction in tonnage in early 2021 led to a “very rocky” first half of the year, Hovorka said, but Trapper overcame the challenges by the end of the year.

“2022 was initially slated to deliver 1.5 million tons. We received notice in late 2021 that our remaining owners were requesting an increase of 100,000 tons,” Hovorka said. “And in January another 100,000 tons were added toward 2022 deliveries, bringing our total demand to 1.7 million tons or a roughly 13% increase to what we initially planned for. We’re excited that we have this opportunity ahead of us and are practically planning additional reserves required by future additions, which we anticipate for at least a year in 2023.”

Hovorka also mentioned that, in celebration of Trapper’s 45th production anniversary, the mine has created the Trapper Mine Foundation Fund, which is being held at the Yampa Valley Community Foundation. Starting the first year after production ends, the fund will give annual contributions to groups that the mine currently supports with donations, including the Boys and Girls Club, Memorial Hospital Foundation, St. Michael’s Community Kitchen and the Interfaith Food Bank.

“At the end of each year, any remaining funds that have been allocated will be distributed through economic development endeavors and any discretionary spending decided by the advisory committee,” Hovorka said. “Trapper is honored to be a vital portion of this community for the last 45 years, and we look forward to leading a legacy in the future.”

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