Tri-State Generation and Transmission's Craig Station was ranked the No. 1 carbon polluting power plant in Colorado and 55th out of nearly 6,000 electricity-generating facilities in the country, according to a report called “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants” released Tuesday by Environment Colorado. Yet power plant and government officials think that is an unfair assessment of Craig Station. This aerial photo of the power plant was taken in late June in a plane flown by pilot Andy Middlemiss.

Photo by Noelle Leavitt Riley

Tri-State Generation and Transmission's Craig Station was ranked the No. 1 carbon polluting power plant in Colorado and 55th out of nearly 6,000 electricity-generating facilities in the country, according to a report called “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants” released Tuesday by Environment Colorado. Yet power plant and government officials think that is an unfair assessment of Craig Station. This aerial photo of the power plant was taken in late June in a plane flown by pilot Andy Middlemiss.

Craig Station ranks as No. 1 carbon polluting power plant in Colorado

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Top 5 carbon polluting power plants in Colorado

  1. Craig Station Power Plant, run by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc.
  2. Comanche Generating Station, run by Xcel Energy
  3. Cherokee Generating Station, run by Xcel Energy
  4. Pawnee Generating Station, run by Xcel Energy
  5. Hayden Generating Station, run by Xcel Energy

Source: Environment Colorado

— Craig’s highest taxpayer and Colorado’s second-largest power plant is under fire from a state environmental organization.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s Craig Station is listed as the No. 1 carbon polluting power plant in Colorado and 55th out of nearly 6,000 electricity-generating facilities in the country, according to a report called “America’s Dirtiest Power Plants” released Tuesday by Environment Colorado.

Power plant and Moffat County elected officials think the Craig Station is being singled out unfairly in light of proposed regulations coming down the pike.

“They’re trying to draw attention to the administration’s costly Climate Action Plan,” said Lee Boughey, senior manager for communications at Craig Station.

The report ranks power plants nationwide by levels of carbon emissions. Because the organization cites carbon dioxide emissions as the driving cause of global warming, the report calls on government officials to make drastic changes in energy policies.

“Power plants, both for Colorado and the nation, are the single largest factor in pollution,” said Margaret McCall, energy associate for Environment Colorado. “As a whole, Colorado’s power sector is by and large the largest polluter" in the state.

The Environmental Protection Agency made headway Friday in its effort to cut down on carbon emissions through a proposal that would limit the amount of carbon a new power plant could release into the atmosphere.

“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. By taking common-sense action to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, we can slow the effects of climate change and fulfill our obligations to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

Yet the proposal will not affect Tri-State immediately, Boughey said.

“Tri-State is a partner in the proposed expansion of a coal-fueled power plant in Kansas,” Boughey wrote in an email. “We are pleased that the EPA recognized the cooperatives' significant investment in the project and that it was appropriate to not include it in the new rule.”

The proposal’s success could determine what regulations come out next year when the EPA will present its proposed regulations for existing power plants, like Tri-State’s Craig Station. The EPA is expected to put that proposal out in June 2014. And the proposal, Boughey said, doesn’t make sense for coal power plants now.

“The challenge is that the technology to capture emissions from power plants is still under development,” he said.

McCall said it is time to start cutting back on carbon emissions and the power resources that produce it.

“We don’t regulate carbon,” she said. “We need to be shifting all of our energy away from coal.”

But Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said the government needs to take a break from regulation. For a community like Craig, he said, coal is crucial to the economy and the business should have space to grow instead of dealing with more restrictions.

“What comes out of our stacks in Craig is by and large water vapor. If our plants were dirty in Craig, we’d be the first to see,” he said. “What (Environment Colorado) is asking isn’t practical at this time, and it’s going to make life harder for average people.”

He expressed concern that Environment Colorado’s report could be used in legislation that would be directed negatively at Moffat County’s energy industry.

“It’s easy to reference this in committee testimonies and justify more over regulation,” he said.

In their report, Environment Colorado asks for more energy policy than the EPA’s most recent proposal. The environmental organization details the ways in which it wants to reduce carbon emissions. Among a push for solar power, plug-in vehicles and widespread public transit, it recommends that the U.S. adopt a renewable energy standard: requiring that 25 percent of electricity comes from renewable resources by 2025.

Environmentalists in general, Kinkaid said, are missing the bigger picture. Solar and wind need to be backed up, he added. That means renewable energy still depends on a solid infrastructure of energy like coal or natural gas, he said.

“We take our electricity for granted. People don’t realize how fragile the grid is,” he said. “We’re losing some of our redundancy and getting closer to the edge, and one of these days, we’re going to have brown-outs.”

For an economy like Craig’s, cuts to the coal industry would be devastating, Kinkaid said.

“The environmental extremists have gone a bridge too far. It’s starting to affect real people with real jobs, and there are real consequences,” he said. “One of the things they talk about is, 'Will there be jobs in the new economy?' Not like these jobs. Not ones that pay well.”

But McCall said that is a narrow approach to a larger problem.

“We’re always talking about real people, but real people are also feeling the impacts of extreme weather and global warming,” she said. “We can’t afford to be short-sighted about this.”

This is a complex issue that shouldn’t be rushed, Boughey said.

“We’re concerned that the administration is trying to address the complex issues of carbon emission through the Clean Air Act,” he said. “If carbon regulations are considered, it should be through Congress.”

Boughey also made clear that Craig Station was not against using renewable energy but that it was important for companies to have the ability to do so when it made market sense.

“We’re always compliant with state and federal laws, and we seek to get a balance in our portfolio,” he said. “Every resource has a value, including renewable energy, but we oppose mandates that determine what resources we use.”

As far as the EPA’s proposal, Kinkaid is unimpressed.

“It looks like they’re still intent on putting coal power plants out of business,” he said. “It’s an unfair proposal. And they know that.”

Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.

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