Bennet bill would create endowment to aid Hayden, Craig as coal-fired plants shutter

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Bennet bill would create endowment to aid Hayden, Craig as coal-fired plants shutter

Date: 05/16/2022     Category: News & Media     Author: Dylan Anderson     Publication: The Aspen Times    

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Xcel Energy’s Hayden Station just east of Hayden, as seen from an EcoFlight tour of the Yampa Valley with Friends of the Yampa on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. Both generators at the site are scheduled to close by the end of 2028.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Hayden’s new school was built with a sizable grant and the support of the community as residents approved the more than $22 million school bond measure in 2017 by just two votes.

But more than half of that bond funding comes from one source: Hayden Station.

“(The school bond) is 55% dependent on the Hayden Station,” said Mayor Zach Wuestewald. “Our fire district, library district, hospital district and cemetery district rely on this asset for property taxes that range anywhere from 55% to 65% of their total budget.”

Xcel Energy intends to close both units at the Hayden Station by the end of 2028.

The three generating stations 17 miles to the west in Craig are slated to close in 2025, 2028 and 2030. In 2020, more than 60% of all of the assessed value in Moffat County came from 10 energy related taxpayers, according to KUNC.

The two Northwest Colorado communities stand to benefit from a bill introduced by Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Wednesday that would create a $20 billion endowment fund to help diversify the economies of transitioning coal communities.

The bill, called the National Energy Community Transition Act, would offer these communities formula payments sent annually to help pay for core public services, transition grants that could be used for planning and capacity building, and investments in specific local projects.

“I have heard time and again from Coloradans about the effects of coal mine and power plant closures have on our rural communities and their economies,” Bennet, a Democrat, said in a statement. “My legislation was carefully crafted with feedback from local leaders in Northwest Colorado to create an enduring way to support economic revitalization.”

Students gather around the front doors of the Hayden Valley Schools before they opened on the first day of school in August of 2021. The school opened in November 2020, after being funded by a grant and taxpayer supported bond.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today.

The endowment would have two accounts, with a permanent account starting with $20 billion that would live in perpetuity. A second account would be filled with unobligated federal fossil fuel and renewable energy leasing revenues.

The endowment would be invested with the goal of making a 5% return.

The bill would also create a new federally chartered nonprofit called the Community Revitalization Corporation that would be overseen by a board of between seven and 11 members appointed by the president and approved by the U.S. Senate. Initially, at least one board member would need to be from each of the six different regions identified across the country.

“I believe we must think regionally about sustainable and long-term community development,” said Routt County Commissioner Tim Redmond. “The endowment concept will allow for long-term planning and success.”

Steam rises from the Craig Station just west of Craig, as seen from an EcoFlight tour of the Yampa Valley with Friends of the Yampa on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. All three generating stations in Craig are scheduled to close by the end of 2030.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Ryan Hess, mayor of Craig, said in a statement that the bill was worked on with local leaders on both sides of the political aisle and would help communities like Craig transition as its coal-based economy fades.

“We believe this proposal is grounded in rural Colorado and would provide the necessary and sustained support to refocus, retool and revitalize Craig and our region,” Hess said.

At a roundtable discussion in Craig last year, local officials highlighted the need to get ahead of the “fiscal cliff” many of these small communities are facing when these plants close. Moffat County Commissioner Melody Villard said Bennet modified the bill after that local consultation and believed it will help communities like Craig embrace the future while honoring the industry that built the community.

“We believe the endowment concept has the ability to do just that,” Villard said.