What’s subsequent for Craig? Group, county sit up for an economic system with out coal

What’s next for Craig? Community, county look ahead to an economy without coal

Steam rises from the Craig Station simply west of Craig, as seen from an EcoFlight tour of the Yampa Valley with Pals of the Yampa on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Right now

When Jennifer Holloway was employed as government director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, “I didn’t know what I used to be moving into, I’ll be sincere,” she says.

“I assumed this might simply be a enjoyable little neighborhood job the place you throw parades,” she remembers with fun.

Then Tri-State Technology and Transmission Affiliation introduced in early 2020 that the Craig Station coal-fired energy plant can be shutting down in 2030, together with the native Colowyo Mine that provides it. With the looming lack of tons of of jobs, Holloway now could be a part of a broad-based effort to reimagine the way forward for Craig and Moffat County as the realm appears to transition away from a coal-based economic system in coming years.

“It’s scary nevertheless it’s additionally a cool alternative that we will get folks to place of their concepts and ideas and form of create one thing collectively,” she mentioned.

“It’s an attention-grabbing time,” mentioned Tom Kleinschnitz, the previous proprietor of a Grand Junction-based, multi-state rafting firm who now works for Moffat County as director of Go to Moffat County and is a Craig Metropolis Council member.

“I believe that what’s coming will be jarring. Among the folks in my neighborhood haven’t totally accepted the change that’s coming.”

The shutdown plans

The 2030 shutdown on the plant will entail ending operations on the final of three producing items on the 1,285-megawatt Craig Station, which nonetheless will likely be working at that time. Known as Unit 3, it’s owned solely by Tri-State, the plant’s operator. Items 1 and a pair of are owned by Tri-State and a number of other accomplice utilities, and are slated to close down on the finish of 2025 and on Sept. 30, 2028, respectively.

Tri-State’s transfer to shut the plant got here in response to state greenhouse-gas discount necessities, and calls for from a number of the native energy Tri-State cooperatives it serves to maneuver towards cleaner and more and more cheaper energy sources.

Greater than 250 folks labored on the plant when the closure plans have been introduced. Present staffing is about 150 workers there; Tri-State hopes the plant’s workforce will largely be diminished over time by retirements and attrition. Information with the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Security present that the Colowyo Mine employed 176 miners as of the tip of September. It employed 219 on the time the shutdown plans have been introduced.

Craig Station, largely fueled by Trapper Mine, stands pumping steam as an enormous pile of coal stands within the foreground on mine property. Trapper mine’s solely buyer is the facility plant.
Cuyler Meade/Craig Press archive

The ability plant is also equipped by the close by Trapper Mine, which is owned by a number of utilities. It employed about 185 folks on the time that Tri-State introduced the shutdown plans in 2020, and 99 folks on the finish of September. The plant is its solely buyer, so it additionally is predicted to close down in coming years.

The plant and mine jobs are high-paying ones for Moffat County, and the services are accountable for a lot of the property tax revenues within the county. Tri-State alone accounted for practically 1 / 4 of the county’s 2022 assessed valuation, with a tax obligation for the yr of practically $7 million, in keeping with county assessor knowledge. Kleinschnitz mentioned energy plant and coal operations account for greater than half of the property tax earnings coming into the county, so the county is in for monumental change.

“We’ll want some revolutionary pondering, out of the field, looking for the perfect options for our neighborhood,” he mentioned.

Outside recreation potential

Kleinschnitz, who began his profession within the rafting business in Moffat County when he was younger, earlier than happening to run his Journey Sure firm in Grand Junction, thinks that tourism “actually could be a sturdy contributor to Moffat County’s future.”

He mentioned the county has practically 2 million acres of public lands, and the potential for extra river entry alongside the Yampa River hall “is large.”

Kleinschnitz was concerned with the riverfront enchancment efforts in Grand Junction for years.

“It’s so cool that it’s what it’s now. It’s completely great,” he mentioned of that riverfront.

He mentioned Craig has obtained practically $4 million in grants for a whitewater park to be constructed south of town, and he thinks it may be a centerpiece for additional riverfront improvement there.

He additionally pointed to the single-track mountain bike trails already accessible within the space, and the potential for creating extra trails for biking, mountaineering and motorized use. Already, off-highway automobile use is allowed on all county roads, he famous.

Spurred partially by extra folks getting outside throughout the pandemic, Kleinschnitz mentioned folks have been discovering distant, backcountry spots within the county. They’re searching for much less crowded areas and alternatives to camp without spending a dime, one thing that’s changing into tougher to search out in lots of locations elsewhere. Kleinschnitz mentioned there’s an organization that escorts folks out to the Sand Wash Basin west of Craig to see the wild horses there, and others are speaking about offering such kinds of skilled guiding companies.

Staying forward of impacts

Kleinschnitz mentioned it is very important put together for extra out of doors tourism by means of means equivalent to placing in locations for folks to correctly park, working with federal land administration businesses and doing leave-no-trace messaging.

The Craig chamber likewise is concerned in out of doors recreation initiatives, working with businesses such because the federal Bureau of Land Administration and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Holloway mentioned the chamber has obtained a grant to assist pay for infrastructure within the Sand Wash Basin. She mentioned a few of its out of doors recreation efforts are targeted on offering issues equivalent to staging areas, indicators and good maps, so folks will know what makes use of are allowed the place, and designating extra tenting websites the place overuse is a priority.

She mentioned that elsewhere in Colorado, tourism, if an space will not be prepared for it, “will be fairly damaging. We wish to be certain we’re staying forward of it and have some nice infrastructure in place.”

The chamber is also how the Craig space can faucet into extra tourism site visitors based mostly on visitation that’s already occurring extra regionally, at Dinosaur Nationwide Monument and within the snowboarding and summer season resort of Steamboat Springs.

“I imagine 300,000 folks go to Dinosaur yearly. How can we get them to come back this manner?” Holloway mentioned.

Already, mentioned Josh Veenstra, who together with his spouse, Maegan, owns Good Vibes River Gear in Craig, “whenever you exit to eating places right here you see people who find themselves staying within the motels in Craig as a result of it’s only 40 minutes from Steamboat and the motels are like 100 bucks” an evening.

Holloway mentioned the chamber is reaching out to quite a few leisure pursuits, equivalent to hunters, cyclists, motorbike riders and horse lovers, to get enter about out of doors recreation and guarantee that what’s pursued is one thing the neighborhood can come collectively and help, “as a result of this transition is an enormous shift for us.”

Good Vibes River Gear, situated at 410 W Victory Means in Craig goals to be a face of the neighborhood because the native economic system is shifting from coal-power manufacturing to a extra numerous vary of industries.
Amber Delay O’Connor/Craig Press

Good vibes’ origin story

Holloway hopes such efforts are laying the groundwork for extra companies like Good Vibes. In addition to serving as a conventional rafting store providing issues equivalent to boat leases and gross sales and shuttle companies, the corporate makes its personal mesh river-related gear.

Veenstra had labored on the energy plant, and dropped at his new enterprise abilities and information gained from stitching insulating pads there as an insulator mechanic. He was born and raised in Craig, and mentioned that when he grew up it was understood that he was just about destined to work in one thing coal-related.

However he felt the coal business itself was destined to finish, and says that whereas on a protracted native raft journey he determined to get out of “the rat race,” cease being profitable for one more entity and open his enterprise.

“I needed to attempt to do one thing that I at all times had a ardour for, and that was being outdoors and having a enjoyable time,” he mentioned.

He first ran the enterprise out of his storage.

“From there it’s simply form of blowing up,” he mentioned.

Now it’s additionally promoting completely different styles and sizes of sturdy, heavy-duty baggage that can be utilized for grocery buying. They’ve confirmed fashionable as a brand new Colorado legislation goes into impact this yr requiring shops to cost 10 cents for paper and plastic baggage, and largely banning companies from offering single-use plastic carryout baggage beginning subsequent yr.

Veenstra mentioned Good Vibes bought 400 or 500 of the baggage final month alone.

“With the legislation that received handed, 2023 goes to be a reasonably attention-grabbing yr for Good Vibes,” he mentioned.

He wish to see Craig turn out to be residence to extra artisan, craft-based producers, including that the important thing for Good Vibes has been providing personalized merchandise that may’t be discovered wherever else, and advertising the corporate and its merchandise over the Web given Craig’s pretty remoted location.

Different financial avenues

A problem for Craig is trying to a future when the high-paying energy plant and mining jobs are gone. Each Holloway and Kleinschnitz mentioned most outdoor-recreation and tourism jobs aren’t going to match these jobs by way of pay, a minimum of for entry-level jobs. They did level to the chance for enterprise house owners in these sectors to turn out to be rich, nonetheless, and Kleinschnitz mentioned folks can also work their means into middle-class and upper-middle-class administration positions in tourism and out of doors recreation.

Shannon Scott, Craig’s financial improvement supervisor, mentioned that whereas tourism and the outside business are one focus of native financial improvement efforts, they’re only a small slice of these efforts. She mentioned there’s additionally a concentrate on bringing in jobs comparable to people who will likely be misplaced, in areas equivalent to manufacturing/industrial, transportation, power and know-how.

“We’ve got a few tasks within the works,” she mentioned, including that they’re nonetheless of their early levels so she will’t go into a lot element about them.

She mentioned one focus for her, working with an financial improvement advisory committee, has been aggressive advertising to point out companies and entrepreneurs that Craig is a superb place to do enterprise, work and stay, and to focus on incentives accessible to corporations, the realm’s decrease price of dwelling, and facilities equivalent to a neighborhood hospital and faculty.

As exemplified by Veenstra, coal and power-plant employees even have worthwhile ability units, and Scott mentioned efforts are targeted on bringing in industries providing jobs these abilities can simply be transferred to, or for which such employees will be pretty simply retrained.

Some such efforts are targeted on the way forward for the facility plant web site itself as soon as coal-fired energy technology ends there. Discussions on that potential future have included neighborhood representatives, Tri-State and others.

What’s subsequent for plant web site?

One concept that has been advised is producing nuclear energy there. Tri-State spokesman Mark Stutz mentioned Tri-State has met with officers at Related Governments of Northwest Colorado to debate that concept, however these have been largely informational conferences up to now.

“It’s our perception that the Craig plant web site offers vital alternatives for future use after 2030, maybe as a hydrogen hub facility, with its present transmission community, entry to accessible land and water, and a robust and succesful workforce,” he mentioned.

Hydrogen will be produced from sources equivalent to pure fuel, or by extracting it from water.

One factor neither Scott nor Holloway is listening to dialogue about is utilizing the location as a molten salt energy storage facility. That’s one thing into account by Xcel Vitality in Routt County for the coal-fired energy plant now working in Hayden. The salt will be heated up and retailer that warmth, which can be utilized to generate steam that produces energy through a turbine. Scott and Holloway mentioned their understanding is {that a} molten-salt challenge may not be an choice for the Craig web site. Stutz mentioned all choices for the way forward for the location “stay on the desk and up for consideration.”

Xcel plans to retire the Hayden plant in 2028 beneath its clear power plan for Colorado, authorised by the state Public Utilities Fee final yr. It has floated concepts for the location together with not simply molten-salt energy storage however biomass energy, produced partially by burning beetle-killed timber harvested from space forests.

Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo mentioned Xcel expects to have bids on potential tasks by early March after which current a plan to the PUC.

Transition is ‘private’

Again In Craig, Veenstra is embracing the change coming to Craig.

“I don’t actually imagine within the coal business, fossil fuels, so I used to be actually simply form of desirous to get out of the entire thing,” he mentioned.

He feels assured about Craig’s future, noting that it has had a robust housing market since Tri-State’s introduced plans for the facility plant and mine, with homes for some time promoting inside days of being put available on the market.

“Folks wish to transfer right here who aren’t related to the coal business,” Veenstra mentioned.

Nonetheless, the area’s transition will produce palpable ache. Holloway mentioned what the Craig space goes by means of “is private for our entire neighborhood.”

Everybody is aware of individuals who work on the mine and plant, she mentioned. She mentioned her brother works on the plant now as a contractor.

“My stepfather was a coal miner and it gave us a extremely nice life-style,” she mentioned.

“Rising up right here, it was virtually just like the coal miners have been astronauts, the extent of respect (they obtained), as a result of our neighborhood actually grasps the idea that we’re offering electrical energy for different those who’s making their lives higher, and it was an honor to try this.”

She mentioned she additionally understands the massive image, and the scientific knowledge saying that one thing needs to be carried out in regards to the burning of coal for the sake of the setting. However she acknowledges on the identical time the necessity to do the whole lot potential to handle impacts to native households from the transition.

Whereas there lengthy has been a degree of respect and neighborhood delight connected to coal-related jobs within the space, Holloway mentioned, “we’ve got to create a brand new identification.”

Scott thinks the neighborhood has come collectively and provide you with good plans for the long run.

“We work properly as companions. We perceive that it’s going to take all the neighborhood to make sure that this transition is profitable,” she mentioned.

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