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Tri-State working to ease plant closure

The Plains Escalante Generating Power Plant in Pruitt is closing by year’s end. (Albuquerque Journal)

The Plains Escalante Generating Power Plant in Pruitt is closing by year’s end. (Albuquerque Journal)

Since making our difficult decision in January to retire the Escalante Generation Station by the end of the year, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association has been diligently working to address the challenges that accompany such a major change. Our focus has been on assisting our employees and the communities in the region that will be impacted.

In late July, Tri-State hosted a virtual town hall meeting to update local elected and public officials and economic development professionals on our efforts. Our leadership team touched on a number of issues, including the efforts being made to help our power plant employees.

Tri-State to date has offered total compensation packages worth $10-$12 million for Escalante workers, and we are providing opportunities to apply for internal vacancies, while offering retraining opportunities through expanded tuition reimbursement opportunities. We also are honoring “time-off” requests and providing financial planning assistance. To date, nearly all departing employees have either retired or found other jobs both within and outside of our company.

But we’re not alone in caring for those who have worked so hard to bring affordable, reliable, responsible power to New Mexico’s rural communities. The state’s Department of Workforce Solutions has shown tremendous initiative and professionalism in reaching out to educate employees on training, education, relocation, health care and unemployment benefits. The department, in conjunction with New Mexico State University and the offices of U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, also helped arrange a job fair this past February for those impacted by the plant closure.

The July virtual town hall also gave us the opportunity to provide updates on several other components of Tri-State’s transition program. These include:

⋄ Having our New Mexico-based government relations staff collaborating with elected officials at the state Capitol over the last three years to assist in developing and enacting various pieces of legislation to promote economic development and support job retention and expansion in McKinley and Cibola counties.

⋄ Working with the McKinley Paper Company, whose operations are quite literally connected to Escalante Station – MPC’s mill requires steam that is provided from the power plant to help run its facility. Local officials are understandably very concerned that the closure of Escalante means the ultimate demise of the paper mill. We hope to have an agreement in place soon to ensure the future of MPC.

⋄ Commissioning a 200-megawatt solar facility on the power plant property. The Escalante Solar Project will be developed by Turning Point Energy, a company with a track record of investing in its host communities. Expected to come online in 2023, the facility will result in several hundred construction jobs, another four to six permanent positions and approximately $25 million in tax revenue over 35 to 40 years.

Lastly, as a not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperative, Tri-State operates under a code known as the “Seven Cooperative Principles.” Among these is “Concern for Community,” an obligation we take very seriously – and one we share with our local member cooperative Continental Divide Electric Cooperative. This is why, when announcing the Escalante plant closure, we committed to investing $5 million in local economic revitalization. We are currently in discussions with local officials on how best to deliver that funding and hope to have a process in place soon.

None of these efforts have been easy, and none can be accomplished by Tri-State alone. We owe much thanks and appreciation to several other individuals and organizations who are guiding our work. In particular, New Mexico Rep. Patty Lundstrom, McKinley County leaders and staff from the Greater Gallup Economic Development Corporation, Cibola Communities Economic Development Foundation and Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments have been wonderful collaborators.

Our decision to retire the Escalante Station, while tremendously difficult, is part of Tri-State’s efforts to embark on an energy transition that will allow us to deliver on our obligation to provide reliable, affordable, responsible power to our members. We thank all of you who are helping to make this happen with your hard work and sacrifice.

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