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The Craig Station coal-burning power plant in Moffat County is pictured Feb. 27, 2020. Tri-State Generation plans to close the plant by 2030. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)

All three units of Craig Station, one of Colorado’s largest coal-fired power plants, will shut down by 2030. 

The five co-owners of Unit 2 at the facility in northwest Colorado last week unanimously voted to close the 410-megawatt plant by Sept. 20, 2028. 

It’s the latest blow to the coal economy in the area, but good news for environmental advocacy groups like the Sierra Club as they push Xcel Energy to advance the closure dates for its two remaining coal-generated power plants in the state. 

Xcel is the only utility in Colorado with large, coal-fired power plants set to operate past 2030, including Hayden Station Unit 2, which is scheduled to retire in 2036.

Xcel has set a 2041 retirement for the Pawnee Generating Station, a 505-megawatt coal-fired plant in Brush that has been in operation since 1981. In 2070, the utility expects to retire Unit 3 at the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo.

While most power companies operating in Colorado are making the switch to cleaner generation, Sierra Club believes that even 2030 is still too far away. 

“Clean energy has become so much more affordable that [they] could likely save more money closing Craig 2 even earlier than 2028,” said Amelia Myers, deputy director of the southwest region of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign

MORE: Colorado Springs will shut down its two coal-fired plants by 2030. Now it’s time for Xcel to do the same, environmentalists say.

All co-owners of Craig Station Unit 2 — PacifiCorp, Platte River Power Authority, Salt River Project, Tri-State and Xcel Energy — have looked to renewable energy sources after Colorado’s government, investors and customers have asked for cleaner energy sources.

Lee Boughey, a spokesman for Tri-State Generation and Transmission, one of the owners of Craig Station, said the Westminster-based power wholesaler plans to have 50% of the power it generates be completely emissions-free by 2024 with the construction of solar and wind plants. 

Tri-State sells power to 42 rural electric co-ops in Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. There are 17 member cooperatives in Colorado.

The company also announced the retirement of all its coal-generation in Colorado and New Mexico earlier this year.

Craig 1 and 2, known as the Yampa Project, are jointly owned by PacifiCorp, Platte River Power Authority, Salt River Project, Tri-State and Xcel Energy. 

The Yampa Project owners previously announced the retirement of the 427-megawatt Unit 1 by the end of 2025. The 448-megawatt Craig Station Unit 3, which is owned wholly by Tri-State, will retire by 2030.

Hayden Station, about 20 miles east of Craig Station, is co-owned by PacifiCorp, Salt River and Xcel. Its coal-fired Unit 1 will retire by 2030, according to documents filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

“All of the decisions that are made about the jointly owned units are made collaboratively with all of the owners,” Boughey said. “That decision was made to help meet the requirements of the state implementation plan to address regional haze.”

Steve Roalstad, spokesman for Platte River Power Authority, which announced last month it was shutting down its coal-burning unit at the Rawhide station north of Wellington 16 years ahead of schedule, said that even though the co-op is moving to cleaner energy sources, the comparisons between coal and solar energy don’t fully match up. 

As Coloradans know, the state is sunny a majority of the time, but unlike coal plants, solar can’t work around the clock and has other cost variables that make the switch difficult, Roalstad said. 

Platte River, which owns approximately 18% of Unit 2 at Craig Station, says its plans to build a 150-megawatt solar farm by the end of 2023 that will almost completely replace the co-op’s share of energy produced by the facility.

Updated at 9:15 a.m. on July 14, 2020: This story was updated to correct that there are three large coal-fired power plants that have retirement dates after 2030.

Updated at 9:58 a.m. on July 14, 2020: This story was updated to correct that Tri-State Generation and Transmission has 42 members, including 17 of which are in Colorado.

Lauren Irwin

Email: Twitter: @laurenirwin88