Environmental groups in Colorado celebrated Thursday as a major Western Utility announced plans move away from coal-fired power to get more juice from the sun and wind, a move that could hasten the closure of the Craig power plant in northwest Colorado from 2034 to 2026.
A generating plant in Hayden already is scheduled to close by 2030.
Two other coal-fired generators at the Jim Bridger and Naughton power plants in Wyoming also are tabbed for early retirement in the draft of the 20-year Integrated Resource Plan that calls for shuttering 16 of its 24 power-generation units by 2030 four more by 2038.
Citing financial incentives, Portland, Oregon-based PacifiCorp said it wants to reduce coal-fired generation by two-thirds by 2030 while pursuing a buildout of wind and solar energy.
The company estimated the switch could save up to $599 million for its 1.9 million utility customers in California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
U.S. utilities have announced the retirement of over 546 coal-fired power generators since 2010.
Anna McDevitt, the campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Colorado, said she hopes the move shows other companies that coal isn't a smart business plan.
“As Tri-State and other Colorado utilities consider how to power our communities into the future, it is clear we need to move off coal," she said.
She added, "Other states don’t even want Colorado’s coal electricity, why do we?”
The Sierra Club released a report in June indicated closing 10 coal-fired plants and switching to renewable sources in Colorado would save Xcel Energy customers $467 million over 20 year
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was elected last year partly on his campaign to move the state toward 100% renewable energy, and fellow Democrats sent him a raft of bills to sign viewed as friendly to clean air and the environmental and hostile toward fossil fuels.
“Clearly the early closure of coal-fired power units and the associated mines is a blow to the people of Wyoming,” said that state's Republican Gov. Mark Gordon.
Wyoming supplies about 40% of the nation’s coal and has three of the affected coal-fired plants.
In 2017, the state produced more than 316 million tons of coal. Colorado produced a little more than 15 million tons, though that was up from about 12.6 million tons in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“We are set to manage this transition in a way that keeps costs as affordable as possible for our customers and also maintain system reliability,” said Rick Link, PacifiCorp’s vice president for resource planning.
Boulder-based think tank Western Resource Advocates said the accelerated timeframe will benefit investors and ratepayers, as well as the environment. The plan, though, will have local impacts that can't be neglected.
“PacifiCorp’s plan is significant because it acknowledges that moving to clean energy benefits ratepayers,” Sophie Hayes, Western Resource Advocates’ senior staff attorney in Salt Lake City, said in a statement. “PacifiCorp’s plan to accelerate reductions in harmful carbon emissions through coal plant retirements and to add significant amounts of renewable energy represents a step in the right direction toward a more cost-effective and environmentally responsible strategy for serving PacifiCorp’s ratepayers.
"Yet PacifiCorp needs to evaluate the economics and opportunities associated with retiring its entire coal fleet in a timely manner. During this transition from coal to clean energy, it is also critical to acknowledge the contribution of coal communities in serving our power needs and to work to provide those communities with new economic opportunities.”
The changes announced Thursday would see PacifiCorp dropping 4,500 megawatts of coal-fired power and adding 4,600 megawatts of wind power and 6,300 megawatts of solar power by 2038.
A megawatt of solar can power 150-210 homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.