Colowyo closure will impact 46 Meeker-area employees

Mining operations at Colowyo Coal Mine will cease by 2030 following a decision by owner Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Of the current 219 Colowyo employees, 46 live in Rio Blanco County. The mine has been a steady source of jobs and revenue for more than 40 years.
COLOWYO PHOTO

RBC | The announcement from power wholesaler Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association that they will close Colowyo Mine and the Craig Station power plant within the next 10 years sent shockwaves through the region last week.

For more than 40 years Colowyo has been a steady employer and source of good-paying jobs and tax revenue for Rio Blanco County. The loss of tax revenue from the mine will be felt in 2020 with the move to the Collom Pit, which is located entirely in Moffat County, according to RBC Assessor Renae Neilson. In 2019, estimated tax revenue to the county from Colowyo is $145,717. The eventual loss of tax revenue is not where the biggest impact will be felt, according to Neilson. “We’ll see it in people. This is going to hit people,” she said.

The announcement comes on the heels of approval to expand operations to the Collom Pit, which was supposed to extend Colowyo’s operations for another 35 years. Instead, the mine will cease production in, or by, 2030, and shift to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Tri-State announced its intention to “work with the legislature, our employees and the communities in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties to plan for and support the transition,” according to CEO Duane Highley.

Colowyo currently employs 219 people, 46 of whom live in Meeker. RBC Economic Development and Public Relations Coordinator Makala Barton issued a statement on social media shortly after the announcement which reads, in part: “We are deeply saddened by the announcement from Tri-State regarding their intention to close the Colowyo Mine and Craig Station Power Plant. Tri-State employs just under 50 Rio Blanco County residents and we realize the economic impact this will have countywide with an even greater impact on our friends in Moffat County. We feel fortunate that as a county we have actively had our eyes and actions focused on diversification and sustainability for several years. This news doesn’t change that goal, but solidifies the need for continued momentum locally and regionally.”

White River Electric Association (WREA) General Manager Alan Michalewicz expressed concern for the employees, as well as other impacted individuals and businesses, in a written statement to the Herald Times.

“This announcement has a significant impact on our community and our members,” Michalewicz said. WREA buys power from Tri-State, and the Colowyo Coal Mine has been one of WREA’s largest industrial customers. According to WREA, which has a long-term power requirement contract with Tri-State through 2050, Tri-State’s Responsible Energy Plan will not increase wholesale electric rates. WREA has stated it will continue to work to manage its costs and loads with the goal of maintaining rates as it did in 2020.

“White River will work with Tri-State in their efforts to support employees and our communities over the next several years as well as work with Tri-State to develop regional replacement generation that provides reliable and affordable energy for our members,” Michalewicz said.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association ‘Responsible Energy Plan’ was released on Wednesday, Jan. 15. The company’s stated goals include:
1. Reducing emissions
2. Increasing clean energy
3. Increasing member flexibility
4. Extending the benefits of a clean grid
5. Committing to community and employees
6. Looking forward to a brighter future

Read the full plan at https://tristate.coop/sites/tristategt/files/PDF/Responsible-Energy-Plan/Tri-State-Responsible-Energy-Plan.pdf

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) issued a statement in response to the announcement, placing blame on Governor Jared Polis and legislation enacted under his administration. “The closure and loss of jobs is the direct result of the State Legislature and Governor Polis’s policies passed in 2019. Instead of implementing a responsible all-of-the-above energy plan that relies on free-market innovation and technological advancement to drive cost and demand, Governor Polis and State House Democrats forced the heavy hand of government to manipulate the market, end a source of affordable energy production, and kill jobs. After all of that, Colorado will remain connected to the main power grid which will continue to rely on coal generation from other states. This loss of these jobs is on the Governor’s hands and on each of those that voted for his plan. They should be forced to look these impacted families in the eyes and explain to them why they think their livelihoods are not important enough to save.”

Tri-State closed its coal-fired power plant in Nucla, Colorado, in September, two years ahead of schedule. While legislative and regulatory measures definitely play a role in Tri-State’s decisions, coal production and profitability has been in decline nationwide since 2005. 

By Niki Turner | editor@ht1885.com

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