By Jamie Leary

HAYDEN, Colo. (CBS4) – This week, Xcel Energy announced plans to permanently shut down the coal-burning Hayden Generating Station in northwest Colorado. The plan calls for the first of the plant’s two units to be retired by the end of 2027 and the second at some point the following year.

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Seventy-five workers are employed at the plant, which is jointly owned by Xcel, PacifiCorp and Salt River Project. Xcel is the majority owner.

The companies will manage the transition of the workforce in partnership with its union, the International Brotherhood of Electricians (IBEW) Local 11. The transition will include “attrition, retirement and retraining employees,” Xcel stated in its press release.

(credit: CBS)

“We are working closely with the company to ensure our union members have ample employment opportunities to minimize impacts to them, their families and the communities we serve,” said Rich Meisinger, Business Manager of IBEW Local 111.

The Hayden plant has provided stability for the community since it began generating electricity in 1965. Meisinger worries whatever replaces the plant won’t offer the same kind of job security.

“What I think is the biggest detriment is our members that work in these coal-fired power plants, is their wages and benefits are collectively bargained for. Right? Like, they have union wages, they have pensions, they have other benefits that once those jobs leave this communities, because they’re such good jobs, it actually has a much larger impact,” said Meisinger. “They have dedicated their careers to these power plants and now the rug is getting pulled out from under them. And so it is my goal, this local union’s goal to make sure they land on their feet.”

The original retirement dates for Hayden’s Unit 1 and Unit 2 were 2030 and 2036, respectively, according to Xcel. But the early closures were a part of the company’s recent commitment to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030. Xcel hopes to ultimately deliver completely “green” electricity – from wind, solar, and hydraulic (water) and biomass sources – to customers by 2050.

Meisinger sits on the board of a team specifically established to help communities with this type of transition.

“In 2019 we actually passed a transition bill. It’s a bill that is aimed at helping people who are displaced from their jobs because of legislation that is closing down coal fired power plants,” he continued, “It’ll help our members, it’ll help people that work for the railroads that haul coal, as well as people working in the coal mines. It also helps the communities impacted by these closures.”

He says talks with Xcel have been going well and he’s hopeful the facility can be repurposed in a meaningful way.

“One of the things we are looking at is possibly repurposing the power plant, or at least that building, right? Like, there are other jobs that are done in Denver and buildings that possibly we are looking at, maybe we can move those jobs to the Hayden power plant.”

Routt County commissioner and former mayor, Tim Redmond, has made a point to be part of the conversation with Xcel as plans move forward.

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“I was really excited when they said they plan on asset retention, which means they’re going to keep this facility going in one way or another,” said Redmond. “They came to us and said ‘hey we’ve got 37 different ideas about the reuse of this plant,’ everything from a fish hatchery to a bio plant, to taking the beetle kill from around the state and burning it to produce electricity, to turning this into their heavy repair factory for their giant motors and other things, which would allow them to bring the product in on the trains and work here. If they go in that direction, there may actually be more jobs here at this power plant then there are now.”

Redmond admitted he would like to see the plan delayed until 2038, but with other plants across the state closing, he knew a plan would eventually have to be made for Hayden.

“Coal generation is obviously on the way out,” said Redmond. “This is a business decision, and someone had decided that their bottom line is better diversifying away from this, and so my thought is, ‘what can I do to prepare my community to help it move forward?’ Ya know, rather than complain about what we had and what we lost, let’s look to the future about what we can have and where we can go.”

Environmental organizations responded favorably to the Xcel announcement but with renewed vigor for even earlier shutdowns of remaining coal-fired plants.

“Coloradans can look forward to breathing a little easier later this decade,” stated the Sierra Club’s Anna McDevitt, “as the only Colorado utility with plans to keep coal burning past 2030 shutters some of its dirty, costly coal plants. Xcel still has work to do as the owner of the only two Colorado coal plants with no closure plans in sight, including Comanche 3, which is twice the size of Hayden and the largest climate polluter in our state.”

Members of the utility industry have resisted environmentalists’ calls for earlier closures due to the absence of replacement energy systems yet to be rolled out and turned on. Xcel will submit its plan for replacing the Hayden units’ output at a meeting with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in March.

The Hayden plant was among the chess pieces used last November by a nine-member citizen panel, the Air Quality Control Commission. That commission, formed as part of the Clean Air Act in 1990, called for the closures of other coal-burning plants near Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and Craig, Colorado. The commission suggested the utilities cease operating those plants by the end of 2028.

Environmentalists celebrated the decision.

Then the AQCC, after pressure mounted from the utilities, reversed course in December.

“I do this with great regret,” said AQCC member Jana Milford, a mechanical engineering and environmental engineering professor at CU-Boulder professor. “But I have to say that, based on new information, I would like to reconsider the feasibility of transitions if the closure dates are moved up.”

Meanwhile, the state’s coal businesses wrestle with their future. Colorado is currently the 11th largest coal producer in the U.S.

“We produce the highest-depth, cleanest coal in the world,” president of the Colorado Mining Association, Stan Dempsey Jr., told CBS4 recently. “Do we find replacement markets or replacement uses for coal?”

Jamie Leary