Routt County commissioner opposes Colorado bill that would fund worker training after closure of a coal-fired power plant |

Routt County commissioner opposes Colorado bill that would fund worker training after closure of a coal-fired power plant

Clay Thorp
Craig Press

Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck, left, and former commissioner Chuck Grobe attended a 2013 rally in Denver promoting coal-fired power plants. (file photo)

CRAIG — A Colorado House bill that some Northwest Colorado officials say incentivizes the closure of coal-fired power plants like the ones in Hayden and Craig passed a key legislative hurdle Monday.

The Colorado Energy Impact Assistance Act, or HB19-1037, was sponsored by Rep. Chris Hansen, a democrat out of Denver, and introduced Jan. 4. The bill seeks to authorize the public utilities commission to approve “transition assistance” bonds for Colorado communities to help retrain workers, subsidize electric rates and cushion tax revenue loss to lessen the economic blow when a coal-fired power plant closes, according to the Colorado General Assembly’s website.

Transition assistance includes “payment of retraining costs, including costs of apprenticeship programs and skilled worker retraining programs, for and financial assistance to directly displaced Colorado facility workers” and “compensation to Colorado local governments for lost property tax revenue directly resulting from the retirement of a facility” among other things, according to the bill’s summary.

The original bill required half of the transition assistance to be disbursed directly to Colorado workers, but a redraft amended that number to 30 percent.

On Monday afternoon, Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger and Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck testified against the bill at a hearing in Denver before the House Energy and Environment Committee.

The committee voted 7-4 Monday along party lines to refer the bill to the House Committee of the Whole, according to Energy and Environment Committee staff.

According to a Feb. 6 letter from Beck and Andy Key — chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado — members of the group opposed the bill, saying it “incentivizes private industry to accelerate the closure of coal-fired power plants in these communities.”

While the letter states members appreciate the legislature’s attempts to provide lost tax revenue relief and job training, the group believes “the provisions of HB1037 will fall far short of what will be necessary to assist these employees and communities.”

Beck also signed a protest letter from Moffat County commissioners to Rep. Dominique Jackson, a democrat out of Aurora who chairs the Energy and Environment Committee. In the letter, Beck joined Commissioners Don Cook and Donald Broom in saying the bill wouldn’t be good for Moffat County’s bottom line.

In addition to lost tax revenue, commissioners are concerned the bill’s worker training provisions won’t be enough to fend off a mass exodus of mine workers from Northwest Colorado once plants close.

“The practicality of retraining has proven ineffective in other coal-affected communities in Colorado,” commissioners wrote in the letter. “The simple reality is skilled labor leaves a community to go to other communities where their labor is needed, rather than switching to what is often a lower-paid career, if new jobs are even available in a coal-affected community.”

Hansen said that market forces have already put the nail in coal’s proverbial coffin and that his bill seeks to lessen the blow of a closing coal-fired power plant.

“We know that over the next decade many older power generation units will be ready for retirement, and it is important to have resources set aside to help communities and workers that will be impacted by these economic decisions,” Hansen wrote in an email. “For coal power, in particular, market forces have reduced its competitiveness — a combination of low natural gas prices and rapidly decreasing costs for wind and solar generation options. The bill also delivers significant savings for ratepayers.”


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