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As renewable energy and natural gas costs decline, it's harder to justify coal energy. Many utilities also are closing coal-generation plants in Indiana and elsewhere. Wochit

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FARMINGTON — Tri-State Generation and Transmission Authority will close the Escalante Generating Station located near Prewitt by the end of the year — five years earlier than it was scheduled to close.

Escalante is one of three coal facilities that Tri-State announced would close by 2030 in a press release issued Jan. 9. The other two power plants are located in Colorado.

The Colorado-based wholesale power provider plans to replace the electricity it receives from the coal-fired power plants with renewable sources.

Tri-State previously retired its ownership in Unit 3 of the San Juan Generating Station in 2017.

“The timeline to retire Escalante Station by the end of 2020 is driven by the economics of operating the power plant in a competitive power market, and by Tri-State’s addition of low-cost renewable resources,” said Duane Highley, Tri-State's chief executive officer. “Our Escalante Station employees work safely and tirelessly to serve our cooperative’s members, and we’re committed to support them through this difficult transition.”

Tri-State provides power to 43 electric cooperatives in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, including La Plata Electric Association in Durango, Colorado.

According to a Tri-State press release, the closure of the 253-megawatt coal-fired power plant will impact 107 employees.

Tri-State stated the employees will receive a “generous severance package” as well as the opportunity to apply for vacancies at other Tri-State facilities. The utility also said it will assist with education and financial planning as well as supplemental funding for health benefits.

“The Governor cares deeply about an economy that works for everyone, and that means we have to do everything in our power to help the workers and communities affected by this closure,” said Department of Workforce Solutions Cabinet Secretary Bill McCamley in a press release. “Our team will be in contact with local officials and worker representatives in the upcoming week to see exactly what their needs are and provide career pathways for everyone that needs help.”

 New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Cabinet Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst said the state will work with Tri-State to replace the power with clean sources of energy within New Mexico.

“New Mexico is a leader in clean energy production and we strongly recommend that replacement resources be sited in the affected community whenever possible,” she said.

In the press release, Tri-State said it will provide $5 million in local community support and is working with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, legislative leaders and officials in Cibola and McKinley counties to address the impacts of the closure, including workforce retraining and other economic development efforts.

Tri-State won't be able to use the low-interest bond opportunity created by the Energy Transition Act to transition away from coal.

Following the closure of the Escalante Power Plant, the San Juan Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant will be the only coal-fired power plants in New Mexico.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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