By Clay Thorp
June 7, 2019 - Colorado State University wants to help Front Range legislators understand the economic implications of removing coal-generated power from communities across the state of Colorado.
In a workshop Thursday, June 6, city and county officials met with two CSU researchers at the Moffat County Courthouse to talk about the future of Craig and Moffat County’s coal community.
Suzanne Tegen of CSU said the university is doing research to help rural voices from coal-transitioning communities be heard at the legislature in Denver.
“We right now are doing research to work with Craig and Hayden and do listening sessions,” Tegen said, adding those listening sessions will be compiled and hopefully considered by legislators when they write laws that affect coal communities like Craig.
Recent legislation passed by Gov. Jared Polis will add more state oversight aimed at helping coal-reliant communities transition to renewable energy, but many officials with Craig and Moffat County are convinced the governor’s plans won’t work.
“They have no idea what we need,” said Commissioner Donald Broom at Thursday’s workshop. “That’s the bottom line.”
Benjamin Hoffner had a few ideas of what the Yampa Valley needs. As engineering manager for Yampa Valley Electric Association, Hoffner warned removing coal-fired turbines — which are basically always on — would make Colorado’s electric grid more unreliable during storms and peak usage times. He said renewables won’t have the kind of base load support provided by turbines like the ones in Craig and Hayden.
“Frequency is supported by large rotating masses,” Hoffner said. “Wind turbines can’t do that and solar can’t do that.”
Hoffner suggested the possibility of retrofitting old coal-fired turbines into natural gas-fired turbines, and offered Texas’s power grid as an example of needing those turbines when renewables fail to provide a solid base load to the grid. He said Moffat County is already poised to provide raw compressed natural gas from local sources.
“The pipeline runs right through Moffat County,” Hoffner said.
Hoffner lamented the lack of available studies on exactly how any state or local power plan would affect the state’s overall power grid reliability.
“We spent the last 100 years planning this system, but we’re not doing the same thing planning out of it,” Hoffner said.
Hoffner thinks the endgame of Colorado’s anti-coal movement means eventually importing power and until the problem is studied directly, it’s unknown how Colorado’s power grid will handle losing its coal-generated power.
“The grid is pretty stable until something goes wrong,” Hoffner said. “That’s when it gets a little dicey. That’s my concern. No one has studied how the grid will react.”
Much of Thursday’s talk centered around Craig and Moffat County’s tax base possibly being decimated by a loss of coal jobs and the industries and small businesses supported by those jobs.
Jeff Comstock, Moffat County’s natural resources director, said planned retraining programs for coal miners won’t work to keep workers here when coal caves.
“They’ll go where their skills are needed,” Comstock said.
Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, listened to Thursday’s meeting via phone conference. She said the Colorado’s cherished tourism industry might see a decline if visitors in need of power can’t have lights or charge their electric vehicles.
“This idea that we are just going to get rid of coal in Colorado, it’s going to have a really terrible impact on the state of Colorado and the state of tourism because it will affect the reliability of our grid,” Petersen said.
CSU researchers said they will be visiting the Craig and Hayden communities between now and December, when they plan to finalize their report for legislators.
Tegen said her research was not commissioned by Polis and is not for anyone else other than CSU for the purposes of helping Denver understand the needs of communities like Craig and Moffat County.
“They don’t understand what it’s like to live here,” Tegen said. “We want to take this to them and when they write their rules and regulations, we can say, ‘listen to these people.’”