Tri-State leadership gives more details of Craig Station Unit 1 closure, Colowyo Mine’s Collom expansion

A Trapper Mine haul truck prepares to dump a load of coal near Craig Station in 2015.
File photo

CRAIG — During a meeting with community leaders Wednesday, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association leadership provided more details on the retirement of Unit 1 at Craig Station and Colowyo Mine’s Collom Expansion.

Representatives of the city of Craig, Moffat County, Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, the Craig Chamber of Commerce, The Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, Moffat County Tourism Association and the Local Marketing District were in attendance.

“Tri-State is very grateful for the community support and for the interest of these community leaders in coming out,” said Drew Kramer, senior external affairs advisor at Tri-State. “We understand there hasn’t been a lot of news since the initial announcement of the closure, but we want to remain communicative and available to answer questions the community has and to consider creative prospects and ideas the community comes up with.”

Unit 1 retirement

Unit 1 is one of three coal-fired units at the plant. In 2016, Tri-State announced Unit 1 would be decommissioned, in tandem with the closure of Nucla Station and New Horizon Mine in Nucla.

At midnight on Dec. 31, 2025, the unit’s air permit will expire, and Unit 1 will no longer be allowed to emit nitrogen oxide.

Barry Ingold, Tri-State’s vice president of generation, said the company does not yet know how many employees will be needed when Unit 1 is decommissioned, but the company hopes to get to that level through attrition as employees leave the plant.

“It’s not like we’re going to get to Jan. 1, 2026, and say ‘All right, I’ve got 40 people I don’t need anymore,’ and boom, you’re gone the next day,” he said. “We think we can taper into that and minimize that impact. There might be a couple layoffs.”

A community transition team was assembled to help both Nucla and the Craig communities adjust to the closures. Most of the team’s efforts have focused on the Nucla closures, because those facilities are set to close sooner, in 2022, and because western Montrose County has fewer community resources and leadership to help the area cope with the change, Ingold said.

Ingold said Unit 1 will remain standing for some time after it is decommissioned. It will not immediately be demolished for two reasons: It is cross-connected with Unit 2 and can serve as a “spare parts bin” for Unit 2.

Additionally, though Tri-State operates Unit 1, it only owns 20 percent of the unit. The other partners who own Unit 1 and 2 — PacifiCorp, Platte River Power Authority, Salt River Project and Public Service Company of Colorado — would also have a say in what happens to Unit 1.

The plant burns between four and a half to five million tons of coal annually. Most of the coal comes in nearly equal portions from Trapper Mine and Colowyo Mine.

“Generally speaking, we’ll probably need one third less coal, but we can’t say how that’s going to impact the mines yet. We don’t know exactly,” Kramer said.

Tri-State co-owns Trapper Mine with the Platte River Power Authority, the Salt River Project and PacifiCorp. All the mine’s owners would collectively make decisions regarding Trapper, Kramer said.

Ingold said Tri-State is exploring selling coal from Colowyo to new markets. The company is testing how Colowyo coal burns at the company’s Escalante Generating Station in New Mexico.

“In future years, it (Colowyo Mine) might be providing less to Craig Station, but it might be providing coal elsewhere,” Kramer said.

“It’s not the best news,” said Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck. “It wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but they were being upfront and honest with us, and at least we know. We know what direction it’s going to be headed.”

Beck was grateful that Unit 1 will remain standing immediately after being decommissioned, because that means the plant will still generate county revenue through business property taxes.

“When you think about the assessed value and the revenue that we will potentially lose from that, we’re hoping sometime between now and 2025, the Collom Pit will be in full operation, and we’ll be able to see some release or revenues from that, as well as the TransWest power line,” Beck said.

Some members of the audience asked about repurposing the plant for other uses. Ingold said the transmission interconnections and water-cooling infrastructure used by Unit 1 could be used for another project.

Transitioning Unit 1 to natural gas-fired turbines would be complicated, Ingold said, as the nearest pipeline is about 30 miles away from Craig Station, and the cost of transporting gas that far might limit the project. Additionally, natural gas turbines do not generate power as efficiently at Craig’s elevation.

“The potential that’s out there is good for us, but what do we do in the meantime?” asked Beck.

Colowyo Collom Pit expansion

The public comment period has closed on the final air permit needed for Colowyo Mine to extend its work into the Collom Expansion. Ingold said the company expects to receive a decision on the permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment within about a month. Currently, the mine is building a road to the future pit. Ingold expects to begin digging the soil above the coal seam by the end of the year, assuming the air permit is approved.

Mining on the Collom Pit would overlap with operations on the Taylor Pit, which is currently being mined, for two to four years. Then, Tri-State will begin reclamation efforts on the Taylor Pit, Ingold said.

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