By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director -
From the front door of Moffat County High School in Craig, Colorado, the view is dominated by one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the state, the three-unit coal-fired Craig Station. Given the importance of Craig Station to the people who live in Craig and the surrounding Moffat County, it was appropriate that a recent community meeting to discuss the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan convened at this location.
The EPA’s recently proposed Clean Power Plan is a complex set of regulations that are intended to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released by the U.S. power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. In the Clean Power Plan, the EPA suggests that carbon emissions can be reduced through the implementation of four specific “building blocks” or strategies to reduce carbon emissions. The building blocks are:
1) Improving power plant efficiency (known as a reduced “heat rate,” which reduces the amount of fuel required to generate the same amount of electricity); 2) Switching power plant fuel from coal to natural gas; 3) Increasing use of renewable energy or nuclear power that does not emit carbon; and 4) More demand-side (customer) energy efficiency measures.
As I indicated in July’s Viewpoint, the Clean Power Plan calls for the most significant shift in energy policy that has occurred in the United States in decades. If implemented as proposed, it will require electric utilities, including electric co-ops, to significantly change how we provide power to our member-owners for many years to come.
The community meeting in Craig on September 10 provided an opportunity to those concerned about the proposed regulations to express their points of view to EPA Region 8 Administrator Shaun McGrath and his staff. The meeting was unique because it is the only instance where the EPA agreed to attend a special community meeting in addition to the formal hearings that were already held around the country. McGrath and his staff deserve credit for agreeing to attend a meeting in a community that has a lot at stake in how the Clean Power Plan is implemented.
It was clear from the outset that there is a lot of concern in northwestern Colorado about whether the Clean Power Plan will impact the viability of the Craig Station. The high school auditorium was nearly full, and most of those in attendance were supporters of the power plant and the coal mines that provide fuel for the plant.
McGrath kicked off the meeting with an overview of the EPA proposal and the reasons the EPA believes it is necessary to curb carbon emissions from the U.S. power sector. He said that global warming is getting worse, and that it is responsible for the recent droughts and fires that occurred across the country. In response, 14 speakers followed including coal miners, Craig station employees and local business owners.
Craig Station plant manager Rick Johnson explained that, back in the mid-1980s, utilities were required to build coal-fired generation when they needed new power-generating capacity. A federal law actually prohibited the use of natural gas for electricity generation. He also described the additional investments made by Tri-State Generation and Transmission and the other owners of the plant to improve air quality and reduce emissions from the plant.
Johnson also questioned the EPA’s building blocks, pointing out that the 70 percent capacity factor expected of natural gas combined cycle plants and the 6 percent heat rate improvements are unrealistic and unachievable.
A local economist gave a report showing that one in five jobs in Moffat and Routt counties depend on the power plant and the coal mines, and that a large percentage of the property tax base supporting local schools and governments comes from the assessed value of the Craig Station. Several business owners and community leaders also expressed concerns about the likely ripple effect that would occur in the local economy if one or more units at the Craig Station were idled or shut down.
After nearly three hours of discussion, it was clear that despite the assurances of the EPA that it had no intention of shutting down Craig Station or any other coal plant, many members of the community were still concerned.
And that is the challenge as we move forward. All of the stakeholders will need to work together because the fate of Craig Station and other coal-fired power plants in Colorado and their communities will depend on the state implementation plan. That plan needs to meet the objectives of the EPA while maintaining the economic engines of rural Colorado.