What’s next for Craig? Community, county look ahead to an economy without coal
January 17, 2023
The Daily Sentinel
Steam rises from the Craig Station just west of Craig, as seen from an EcoFlight tour of the Yampa Valley with Friends of the Yampa on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today
When Jennifer Holloway was hired as executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, “I didn’t know what I was getting into, I’ll be honest,” she says.
“I thought this would just be a fun little community job where you throw parades,” she remembers with a laugh.
Then Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced in early 2020 that the Craig Station coal-fired power plant would be shutting down in 2030, along with the local Colowyo Mine that supplies it. With the looming loss of hundreds of jobs, Holloway now is part of a broad-based effort to reimagine the future of Craig and Moffat County as the area looks to transition away from a coal-based economy in coming years.
“It’s scary but it’s also a cool opportunity that we can get people to put in their ideas and thoughts and kind of create something together,” she said.
“It is an interesting time,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, the former owner of a Grand Junction-based, multi-state rafting company who now works for Moffat County as director of Visit Moffat County and is a Craig City Council member.
“I think that what’s coming can be jarring. Some of the people in my community have not fully accepted the change that’s coming.”
The shutdown plans
The 2030 shutdown at the plant will entail ending operations at the last of three generating units at the 1,285-megawatt Craig Station, which still will be operating at that point. Called Unit 3, it’s owned solely by Tri-State, the plant’s operator. Units 1 and 2 are owned by Tri-State and several partner utilities, and are slated to shut down at the end of 2025 and on Sept. 30, 2028, respectively.
Tri-State’s move to close the plant came in response to state greenhouse-gas reduction requirements, and demands from some of the local power Tri-State cooperatives it serves to move toward cleaner and increasingly cheaper power sources.
More than 250 people worked at the plant when the closure plans were announced. Current staffing is about 150 employees there; Tri-State hopes the plant’s workforce will largely be reduced over the years by retirements and attrition. Records with the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety show that the Colowyo Mine employed 176 miners as of the end of September. It employed 219 at the time the shutdown plans were announced.
The power plant also is supplied by the nearby Trapper Mine, which is owned by multiple utilities. It employed about 185 people at the time that Tri-State announced the shutdown plans in 2020, and 99 people at the end of September. The plant is its only customer, so it also is expected to shut down in coming years.
The plant and mine jobs are high-paying ones for Moffat County, and the facilities are responsible for much of the property tax revenues in the county. Tri-State alone accounted for nearly a quarter of the county’s 2022 assessed valuation, with a tax obligation for the year of nearly $7 million, according to county assessor data. Kleinschnitz said power plant and coal operations account for more than half of the property tax income coming into the county, so the county is in for monumental change.
“We’ll need some innovative thinking, out of the box, trying to find the best solutions for our community,” he said.