Skip to contents
Opinion Columns

Opinion: Delays in closing Colorado coal plants are costly in money and air quality

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)

Under the Regional Haze provision of the federal Clean Air Act, states must submit a plan to reduce haze to the Environmental Protection Agency. This rule — aimed at limiting air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas — requires that Colorado submit its plans to the EPA by July 2021 and reduce pollution by 2028.

In November, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) ruled that several coal and gas plants in the state must be retired no later than Dec. 31, 2028 — earlier than the initially planned date. These early retirements would significantly improve air quality and count as an essential move towards reducing Colorado’s carbon pollution. 

Soleil Gaylord

Based on EPA calculations, the impact of early retirement of the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association’s Craig Station Unit 3 in Moffat County, the Platte River Power Authority’s Rawhide Energy Station north of Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs Utilities’ Ray D. Nixon Power Plant could equal taking 1.3 million cars off the road for an entire year in terms of carbon reduction. 

If the Craig, Rawhide and Nixon units are retired early — following the precedent of coal-fired Hayden Generating Station’s units 1 and 2, operated by Xcel Energy (which, as of Jan. 4, are on track to close ahead of schedule)  — Coloradans could save about $68 million, and nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon could be reduced by 10,000, 12,000, and 19.4 million tons, respectively.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

While last November’s AQCC ruling was a grand success for Colorado communities, public lands, and air, coal utilities successfully worked to contest it. 

Last month, the AQCC voted to reverse its decision to retire the Craig, Rawhide and Nixon coal-plant units by 2028.  As of now, all three plants are slated to close voluntarily by 2030. 

In a state where air quality poses a significant health threat, it’s time that heavily-polluting coal plants are retired. Further, utilities could save their customers $346 million by replacing these three coal plants with solar and $534 million by replacing them with wind energy by 2023, according to a 2019 report by Strategen Consulting for the Sierra Club, which opposed the AQCC’s December reversal.

After a summer of record-breaking wildfires and orange-tinged skies, Coloradans understand the dire threat of air pollution and climate change. As a young student concerned deeply for the future, I encourage you to contact the AQCC and let them know your support for retiring coal plants — archaic, air-dirtying entities — by 2028. 

Colorado can no longer lag in its efforts to move away from coal, and utilities only make the transition to clean energy proceed more slowly. 

Within the next decade, policymakers and regulatory agencies must make crucial decisions to reduce climate change. No longer do we have the choice to remain idle and bow to the needs of industry.


Soleil Gaylord of Telluride is a junior at Dartmouth College studying Government and Environmental Studies. When not nose-deep in a book, she loves to mountain run, backcountry ski, and discuss environmental policy and history.


The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com.

Rising Sun