Tri-State to Close NM, CO Coal Plants

A new plan from Tri-State, approved by their board yesterday and released today, will close the Escalante coal plant this year. The plant is located in Prewitt, New Mexico, between Grants and Gallup. The Craig station in northern Colorado will close by 2030.

The plan will eliminate Tri-State’s New Mexico and Colorado coal generation and bring significant emissions reductions in both states. It will also mean immediate economic changes for the workers and communities of western New Mexico that will require quick, creative and collaborative action to support new economic opportunities.

The closures represent a continuation of the clear economic trend away from coal generation and towards renewable energy. Tri-State’s plan should not be a surprise: nearly every western utility has already eliminated coal generation or planned significant reductions in coal generation over the coming years. “The timeline to retire Escalante Station by the end of 2020 is driven by the economics of operating the power plant in a competitive power market, and by Tri-State’s addition of low-cost renewable resources,” said Duane Highley, Tri-State’s CEO. Tri-State’s other coal assets, the Springerville plant in Arizona and the Laramie River plant in Wyoming, were not mentioned in today’s announcement, but there is little chance they will remain unaffected for long. Coal is going the way of the dinosaur.

Because of the short timeline for Escalante, the response to the economic impacts of closure will have to be swift. Tristate has committed $5 million to economic development in the region around Prewitt as well as transition benefits for employees of the plant. A state legislative response, adding additional economic investments and workers support, may also be in order. New Mexico has a precedent for such a response following the nation-leading Energy Transition Act of 2019 that addressed the retirement of the San Juan Generating Station, which is also closing for economic reasons.

The move will position Tristate to add significant renewable energy and move towards the significant reductions in carbon pollution that both Colorado and New Mexico have signaled will be required. New Mexico’s Governor Lujan Grisham has committed the state reductions via executive order and recently released a task force report with recommendations on achieving those reductions. Colorado passed a carbon reduction bill last year that will also mean new reduction rules—including a requirement for 80% pollution cuts by the state’s largest utility, Xcel.

As Western states continue to move from dirty fuel sources such as coal toward renewable energy, it’s essential that we plan for a just transition for workers. Prewitt, New Mexico, and Craig, Colorado, as well as many coal towns throughout the country, will look different a decade from now. Let’s plan for a brighter future by investing in job training, community investment, and transparent decision-making processes.

About the Authors

Noah Long

Director, Western Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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