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200 MW of solar going up in New Mexico at site of Tri-State’s Escalante Station. My oh my, how things have changed in just four years.


by Allen Best

In August 2019, I was in New Mexico, driving from Albuquerque to Farmington, when I paused to take photographs of the Escalante coal plant.

You won’t see those photographs here. I had gone to the entrance but not beyond. A guard emerged from the Tri-State Generation and Transmission entrance station and made his way to my car. Photography of the coal plant was forbidden, he said, and asked to watch me as I deleted the photos.

Instead, I took photos from the state highway.

At least I was on Tri-State property when I took the photos, so the guard was within his rights to ask for deletion. Earlier that same summer, on Memorial Day, I had been at Craig, in northwest Colorado, at another Tri-State coal station when I paused along a county road to take photos of the sign announcing the coal plant. A guard in that case had rushed out and shouted that I was on private property. (I doubt that sincerely).

Was this only four years ago? So much has changed. Tri-State just a few months later announced imminent plans to close the Escalante plant. One of the three units at Craig was already scheduled to close by 2025, but Tri-State soon after announced that the other two units would close by 2030.

Origin Energy has begun construction of a 200-megawatt solar project at the site of the now decommissioned 253-megawatt Escalante coal plant. Tri-State has a power-purchase agreement for the output of the Escalante Solar Project.

“It’s meaningful that the first solar project to start construction as part of the Responsible Energy Plan we announced in 2020 will be built alongside our retired coal plant,” said Duane Highley, Tri-State’s chief executive officer. He said this will advance Tri-State in achieving its goal of having 50% of energy used by its members by 2025. As the project is in New Mexico, it will enable Tri-State to meet requirements of the Energy Transition Act that had been passed by New Mexico legislators a few months prior to my visit.

Robert E. Castillo, the CEO of the cooperative in New Mexico where the former coal plant was located, said the solar plant will not replace the jobs at the coal plant, but the solar project’s tax base will be impactful to the local school district and to McKinley County.

As for Craig, there seems to be little to report. I spent a night there recently, coincidental to a two-day conference being held to rustle through some of the ideas and possibilities for what can help Craig stay on its feet economically after the coal plants close. Later, I talked to a participant who had been in the meeting. He reported raves about the structural integrity of the coal plant infrastructure – but no ideas about how to make good use of it.

Allen Best
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