Award-Winning Coal Unit Set for Retirement

The five owners of a 410-MW coal-fired unit at the Craig Generating Station in Colorado have said they will retire the generator on Sept. 30, 2028, about one year before what will then be the last operating unit at the facility will be shuttered.

Owners of the Yampa Project—Units 1 and 2 at the site in northwest Colorado—on July 8 unanimously agreed on the Unit 2 retirement date. The group previously announced a 2025 retirement date for the 427-MW Unit 1. The owners of those two units are Xcel Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Salt River Project, Platte River Power Authority, and PacifiCorp.

Tri-State, a Colorado-based power cooperative, in January said it would close Unit 3 at Craig by 2030 as the utility exits coal-fired generation.

The Craig Generating Station has operated in northwest Colorado for 40 years. Unit 1 at the coal-fired plant is set to close in 2025, with Unit 2 now set to retire in 2028, and Unit 3 scheduled to be retired by 2030. Courtesy: Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association

Unit 2, which came online in 1979, was a POWER Top Plant award recipient in 2018 after a project to install selective catalytic reduction technology. The 448-MW Unit 3 began operation in 1984. Construction on Unit 1 began in 1974, the same year as Unit 2, but Unit 1 did not come online until 1981.   

‘Decision Weighed Heavily on Us’

“Even though the Unit 2 retirement date is only one year earlier than the full retirement date for Craig Station, the decision weighed heavily on us,” said Duane Highley, CEO of Tri-State, on Wednesday. “As we implement our Responsible Energy Plan, we remain focused on working with our partners in the plant, as well as local and state leaders, to support our employees and the community through this transition.”

Tri-State, which operates the three units at the 1,285-MW Craig Station, said Wednesday it will work with local and state officials to develop a transition plan for the plant’s workers. Tri-State said Craig Station currently employs 240 people.

Craig Station was built by the Colorado-Ute Electric Association and has been a landmark in Moffat County, near the borders of Wyoming and Utah. The facility has provided jobs both at the power plant and the local Colowyo and Trapper mines. Tri-State in January said it would close the Colowyo mine by 2030, and then reclaim the site. Tri-State in announcing that closure said the mine, which supplies Unit 3 at the plant, employs 219 workers.

Tri-State is part-owner of the Trapper mine, which employs about 185 people. The mine’s president, Michael Morriss, in January said the mine would operate as long as Units 1 and 2 remained online. “That [plant] is our sole customer, so when the plant shuts down that will certainly end Trapper as we know it,” Morriss told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel newspaper.  

Trapper has supplied coal for Units 1 and 2 at Craig. It produced about 2 million tons of coal in 2019.

Platte River Exiting Coal

Platte River Power Authority, also based in Colorado and owned by the four northern Colorado communities it serves, in June said it will close its remaining coal-fired plant by the end of the decade, a facility that had a planned retirement date of 2046. Platte River said it would retire the 280-MW Unit 1 at its Rawhide Energy Station near Fort Collins by 2030, as part of a Resource Diversification Policy adopted in December 2018. The measure calls for the utility to have a 100% non-carbon energy mix by 2030.

“Platte River continues to take the steps needed to meet our board-adopted Resource Diversification Policy,” said Jason Frisbie, Platte River Power Authority general manager and CEO. “This agreement [for the Craig closure] is another important step among many we need to take to reach that goal. Each of the five partners in the Yampa Project face different challenges associated with this resource and we greatly appreciate Tri-State’s leadership in the process to find the most optimal date for Unit 2’s retirement.”

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, is majority owner of what will be the only operating coal-fired units in the state after 2030. That was assured with today’s announcement, and also after Colorado Springs Utilities last month said it would close its two remaining coal plants by 2023 and 2030, respectively.  

“We appreciate Tri-State’s leadership as operator of the Craig Station and the work by our joint partners on this decision. As a company with a vision to deliver 100% carbon-free electricity to our customers by 2050, Xcel Energy recognizes this is not an easy decision,” said Alice Jackson, Xcel’s president. “We believe in providing as much advance notice as possible so we can work with our economic and community partners through this transition.”

The coal-fired power generation facilities in Colorado currently scheduled to operate past 2030 are:

  • Comanche 3 (750 MW) in Pueblo—Xcel is majority owner and operator of the largest coal plant in Colorado, and the plant is scheduled to retire in 2070.
  • Pawnee (552 MW) in Brush—Xcel is the sole owner and operator, and the plant is scheduled to retire in 2041.
  • Hayden 1 (179 MW) and Hayden 2 (262 MW) in Hayden—Xcel owns the majority of Hayden 1 and 37% of Hayden 2. Hayden 1 is scheduled to retire in 2030 and Hayden 2 is scheduled to retire in 2036. Co-owner PacifiCorp has called for Hayden 2 to close by 2030.

Xcel in 2018 made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030 and 100% by 2050, part of the utility’s Clean Energy Plan that involves closing coal-fired units and increasing its use of renewable resources. That move preceded announcements by other utilities in the state that they would retire their coal-fired units after Colorado lawmakers passed the “Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution” in 2019. That measure aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 25% by 2026, 50% by 2030, and at least 90% by 2050, based on 2005 emissions levels.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

SHARE this article