Today, Governor Polis, the Office of Just Transition (OJT) within the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment, and the Office of Economic Development & International Trade (OEDIT) announced two new Coal Transition Community grants to fund projects that will diversify local economies and create new jobs in Moffat County and Oak Creek through the development of hydropower and expanded access to healthcare services.
“Colorado is helping local communities diversify their economies and creating new opportunities for people to save money. The Coal Transition Community Grant provides funding for local projects that create new jobs, help local businesses grow, and support economic growth. We are thrilled to announce two new grant recipients, Moffat County and South Routt Medical Center, who are working to help the region thrive and will use this funding to build on those efforts,” said Governor Polis.
“Coal Transition Community grants support community-based economic development plans that build on local strengths and opportunities. We’re pleased to support the communities of Moffat County and Oak Creek as they work to strengthen and diversify their economies,” said OEDIT Executive Director, Eve Lieberman.
A $150,000 grant awarded to Moffat County will fund a study to assess the socio-economic impact of a $1.5 billion pumped storage hydropower project. The project is part of the County’s efforts to diversify the local economy ahead of the closure of Craig Station, a coal-fired power plant that will cease operations by 2028.
“This project will create new opportunities for workers in the community and support Moffat County’s economy now and in the future. The socio-economic study will help with an important step in the permitting process, and it will help the community make the most of this economic opportunity,” said OJT Director Wade Buchanan.
The proposed pumped storage hydropower project will consist of two artificial water reservoirs southeast of Craig, Colorado. Water will be stored in the upper reservoir and released, as needed, to produce electricity. The system will act like a giant battery, with a generating and pumping capacity of 600 megawatts. Construction time is estimated to be five to six years and is expected to generate over 300 construction-related jobs. Once operational, the hydropower project is projected to employ 30 to 40 workers. In addition to helping fulfill Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitting requirements, the study will identify ancillary business opportunities, forecast tax revenues, identify land-use issues, determine indirect job creation, and assess workforce training needs and opportunities.
“As a community that is facing decommissioning coal facilities, Moffat County needs to replace lost property tax base and high-paying jobs. We appreciate the opportunity to conduct a detailed social and economic assessment for a potential pumped-hydro project, which has the potential to partially offset these impacts,” said Jeff Comstock, Director of Moffat County’s Natural Resources Department.
A $307,000 grant to South Routt Medical Center (SRMC) in Oak Creek will support the initial planning phase for an expansion. SRMC is a community healthcare center in Oak Creek in rural Routt County. As one of Oak Creek’s largest employers, SRMC currently employs 10 to 15 staff and provides primary care, women’s health, pediatric care, urgent care, immunizations, in-house laboratory testing, oral health services through Northwest Colorado Health, and physical therapy through UCHealth.
“The funding from this grant enables us to take the critical first step in getting this expansion project off the ground. This project will enable the medical center to continue providing quality healthcare to our community and will meet the growing needs as we move ahead. The expanded healthcare services and additional jobs will be a great benefit to our community and the local economy,” said Ken Rogers, District Manager of the South Routt Health Service District.
The SRMC expansion is expected to create 10 new full-time jobs over a one to three year period and expand capacity to serve an additional 2,000 to 3,000 patients per year, while enabling area residents to receive healthcare services locally rather than traveling to the Front Range. SRMC is also committed to marketing their expanded services to patients in Moffat and Grand counties to help bring out-of-town visitors into the community to support local businesses such as drug stores, gas/convenience stores, retailers, and restaurants.
“Supporting the Yampa Valley communities that I represent through the impacts of the energy transition is a major priority of mine so I’m excited to see these OJT and OEDIT grant awards that will help Moffat County and Oak Creek. The pumped hydro study and hospital expansion represent exciting steps forward for both communities and is an important part of the region’s future energy production and economic diversification. I look forward to supporting more economic development projects like these across the Yampa Valley in the coming years,” said State Senator Dylan Roberts.
“These two economic development grants represent positive movement forward in helping the communities, and by extension the workers and their families, who will be impacted by the coal transition. I applaud that these projects were conceived and proposed by the communities and the partnership among state agencies was able to support them,” said Colorado Rep. Meghan Lukens.
The Coal Transition Community Grant grew out of Colorado’s Just Transition Action Plan finalized in 2020, which outlines steps the State of Colorado plans to take to help communities that have relied on coal mines and coal-fired power plants for employment find new sources of property tax income and jobs. Between OJT and OEDIT, approximately $9.62 million in funding has been allocated for Coal Transition Community Grants during this phase of funding.
OJT and OEDIT are encouraging proposals for pivotal economic development activities and strategies from other coal transition communities. In addition to the Yampa Valley counties of Rio Blanco, Moffat, and Routt, funding is available to the West End of Montrose (towns of Nucla, Naturita, and Norwood), Pueblo County, and Fort Morgan County, as well as Delta, El Paso, Gunnison, La Plata and Larimer counties.