Drake Power Plant’s days could be numbered. But it could be decades before the familiar plumes of steam no longer dominate the downtown landscape.
The Colorado Springs Utilities Board of Directors – essentially, City Council – asked the utilities staff to study the feasibility of de-commissioning Drake, the coal-fired power plant. Tentatively, the study will be finished in October, before the city’s next budget-planning period.
And that study could well mean the end of CSU’s investment into the Neustream, a dry coal scrubber developed by local company Neumann Systems.
“Can we drag our feet on the Neumann Systems?” asked board member Tim Leigh. “Just until we have some idea what we’re doing with Drake? It seems like we’re chasing the rabbit down the wrong hole.”
Neustream is a coal scrubber that rids emissions of sulfur dioxide. The utilities has spent more than $73.5 million testing the equipment in a public-private partnership, and the work has been certified by an outside agency.
“We invested in this technology because we thought it was the right technology to meet regulations,” said Bruce McCormick, chief energy officer. “We still do. But if the community says we want to look at something different downtown, we’re certainly open to looking at those options.”
Utilities staff agreed to halt or delay installation of equipment at Drake, currently slated for October. They also said some maintenance at the plant would have to be addressed, but they would seek the board’s approval on more expensive projects.
In recent weeks, business owners and developers have complained about the dominant role Drake plays in the downtown landscape. They claim the plant is an eyesore and harms economic development. Mayor Steve Bach wants to tear down the plant and move the Sky Sox stadium from Powers Blvd.
David Amster Olzweski , the owner of Sunshare Solar, told the board that he’s tried to recruit out-of-town workers for his solar company. When visiting the city, they declined the job because of Drake.
“I think it sends a signal about what this community’s about,” he said. “And they wouldn’t come here because it told them that this isn’t a forward-thinking community.”
Board member Bernie Herpin countered, saying that the air in Colorado Springs was clean and clear – and that businesses like Atmel and Agilent were here because of inexpensive power provided from coal use at Drake.
But Brandi Williams, who called herself the “token young professional” on the board, echoed Olzweski’s concerns.
“It does say something – it sends a signal,” she said. “And clearly, this issue is more important to my generation. We look at energy a different way than the generation before us.”
In commissioning the study to replace Drake, the board gave utilities staff a laundry list of issues to consider: the cost of removing Drake, the cost of replacing its coal energy with another form of energy; the economic benefit from having the space to develop for downtown and the options for where the plant might be located.
Chances are slim that the city could get another coal-fired plant through the permitting process, Herpin said.
But for some board members that is a reason to move to replace Drake.
“We might be using an energy that has a bullseye on it,” said Angela Dougan. “We’re planning for today’s regulations, but are we spending money for solutions that won’t work under stricter regulations? We need to look into that.”