Board votes to keep Drake, NeuStream

Neumann Systems Group and its sulfur dioxide scrubber are back on track after the Colorado Springs Utilities Board of Directors voted to end the slowdown on the project for the Martin Drake power plant.

“We’re pleased with the decision,” said Rob Fredell, vice president for Neumann Systems Group.

The CSU board of directors – comprised of City Council members  – voted earlier this summer to “slow down” the project while utilities studied the possibility of shutting down the downtown plant and tearing it down.

The concern was that having a huge power plant in the downtown corridor was an eyesore – and it made the wrong impression.

But due to unexpected costs from the Waldo Canyon fire and its commitment to Neumann Systems Group, the board voted to keep Drake where it is, and to move ahead with the NeuStream.

Fredell said that the slowdown won’t affect the project’s schedule.

“The delays caused by the slowdown at Utilities’ request should not affect the project’s total cost or schedule,” he said.

Dave Grossman, spokesman for CSU, said Utilities was going to reassess the installation schedule, and how it could affect costs.

“We should know more in two to three weeks,” he said.

Neumann planned to start construction on the project in June, and to begin testing the full-sized NeuStream in the first quarter of 2014. CSU has to meet new SOX emissions requirements set by the EPA by 2017.

Councilor Tim Leigh was one of the major dissenters about the NeuStream, and the partnership with Neumann. He met with Dave Neumann and learned about the scrubber and how it works. He voted in favor of keeping Drake downtown.

“The science is there,” he said. “I’m convinced of that.”

But what he isn’t sure about is the public-private partnership that CSU entered into with Neumann Systems Group.

“Should we be in the R & D business? Should we be in the venture capital business?” he asked. “That’s not our money; it’s public money. These are deep philosophical questions that I am going to pursue. Vigorously.”

And that’ s not the only question he has.

“I want to do a deep dive,” he said. “Should we be in the Utilities business? Should council be governing it? They say our rates are cheaper than Xcel’s, and that could be true. But could we be half again as cheap?”

Leigh said he wanted to reduce utility rates – or at least minimize rate hikes. That’s one reason he voted to keep Drake and to install the scrubber.

“Drake is our cheapest source right now,” he said. “In terms of what we pay for it, what it costs, it’s the cheapest option. And the Neumann scrubber – we had to go ahead with it, if only to mitigate the decisions made by previous boards.”

In the meantime, Neumann Systems Groups has high hopes for its scrubber. Not only do they believe it will sequester most of the sulfur dioxide from coal-fired emissions, they also think it will do the same for carbon dioxide.

The company received a $9.2 million grant from the National Energy Technology Laboratory to study carbon dioxide sequestration.

“We believe we can capture carbon dioxide emissions at the lowest cost of any system,” Fredell said. The actual cost of removing CO2 depends on how much is to be removed, he said.

For example, removing 50 percent isn’t difficult, but taking 90 percent out is.

“And the difference is the cost,” he said. “It costs more per measure to remove the carbon dioxide.”