Colorado-Ute Power Plant

Built in Durango, Colorado, in 1893, the Colorado-Ute Power Plant was an electrical generating station managed by Colorado-Ute Electrical Utility. The National Register of Historic Places includes this plant, a building constructed of metal and stucco. This historic plant underwent a million-dollar rehabilitation in 2009 and was transformed into the Durango Discovery Museum, an industry and science museum aimed at children.

The Colorado-Ute Utility began operations in 1942. Nucla Station, a generating facility, was built in 1959 and was capable of producing 36 megawatts at that time. Now it can produce 100 megawatts. Even though Colorado-Ute went bankrupt, the station is still operated today, because it and other properties were sold to Tri-State G&T. Though Nucla Station was the first built from scratch, the Durango Colorado-Ute plant had operated since 1893. This was about 50 years prior to the formation of the company. Colorado-Ute grew continuously during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1965, the utility added the plant Hayden 1, and in 1976, it added Hayden 2.

Along with the 1970s energy crisis came renewed interest in oil shale. Colorado had a lot of the hydrocarbon-rich rock, and oil companies like Exxon, Amoco, and Arco invested heavily in development and exploration. Colorado-Ute invested in its service region’s infrastructure, as it expected a huge boost in population in the years to follow. Exxon projected a necessity in 1980 for 75,000 more housing units and 700 new schools, along with 3,000 new teachers. Colorado-Ute’s future looked promising.

However, the presupposed need exceeded the reality of what came to pass. The company had over-invested, and development schemes collapsed. In the early 90’s, Colorado-Ute declared bankruptcy. Tri-State purchased the Nucla Station and took over Craig Station Unit 3’s lease. At that time, about 675 previous Colorado-Ute employees joined Tri-State, along with ten new member systems. Personnel moved to Westminster, Colorado, the new headquarters, in 1997.  Tri-State G&T, a wholesale supplier of electric power, serves about 1.4 million customers. Its service area encompasses four states across 250,000 square miles. Tri-State has a 3.649-gigawatt capacity and maintains 5,206 miles of lines to deliver this power.

Colorado-Ute Power Plant was likely among the numerous mills, factories, worksites, and power plants that used asbestos in the previous century for its heat resistance. Ironically, the reason places such as this power plant used asbestos in the first place was to protect facilities and equipment from extreme temperatures, but the result of this usage was endangerment of the workers’ health.



National Register of Historic Places