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There's a popular saying in Craig: "Coal keeps the lights on."

In rural northwestern Colorado, the town of Craig is at a crossroads. Coal has long been the primary employer and economic driver in this small, tight-knit community, which takes pride in providing energy to the surrounding region. Here, coal is an identity. A duty. A way of life.

But something is about to change.

"We will not be able to operate this plant after 2030."

Colorado is moving away from fossil fuels toward cleaner, more renewable energy. And in January 2020, the electrical utility Tri-State announced that it would close its coal-fired power plant and coal mines in Craig by 2030. The town faced the prospect of massive economic disruption once its primary industry disappeared. Newly-hired Tri-State CEO Duane Highley knew what that decision could mean for the community.

"We've been kind of living in this perpetual state of denial that it's just gonna always still be there."

The news was like an earthquake in this close-knit community. Now, some like business owner Kirstie McPherson and Chamber of Commerce Director Jennifer Holloway are seeking to reinvent Craig’s economy around other industries as the transition looms.

This is a story about the energy we use every day. But it's also a story about values and resilience in the face of change. Craig is only the latest American coal town to face a transition. It won't be the last.

Can it succeed where others have failed? 

Duane Highley, CEO, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association
Jennifer Holloway, Executive Director, Craig Chamber of Commerce
Kirstie McPherson, Community and Economic Development Manager, Colorado Office of Just Transition
Graham Roberts, Environmental Supervisor, Trapper Mining Inc.

Bonus Clips

Duane Highley, CEO of Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, talks about the history of electrical co-ops.

Kirstie McPherson vividly remembers the sound from the nearby coal mine when she was growing up in Craig.

Further Reading

Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association press release, January 9, 2020.

"High-Altitude Energy: A History of Fossil Fuels in Colorado," University of Colorado Press, 2002. Archived by Johns Hopkins University Press.

"Colorado is Entering a New Environmental Era… Maybe," Colorado Public Radio, May 13, 2019.

"Craig leaders worry about future after power plant announces coal closures," KDVR, January 10, 2020.

"Museum of Northwest Colorado: Railroads built tough," Craig Daily Press, October 11, 2013.

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