Despite complaints, Utilities refuses to reconsider Drake decision

Following a long, contentious and apparently unadvertised public hearing, the Colorado Springs City Council, acting as the Utilities Board, declined to revisit their July 18 decision to finish installation of the $130 million Neumann Systems pollution control system on the downtown Drake power plant and defer any study of the plant’s future until 2013.

News that an update on Drake would be presented had circulated among interested members of the public, although it was nowhere mentioned in the 129-page agenda.

CSU has already spent or committed $78 million on the Neumann contract, and expects to spend a total of approximately $130 million before the highly touted pollution control system is operational in 2014.

Before the vote, several community leaders registered their dismay with the board’s action last month, which they believe guarantees that Drake will remain in service for decades to come.

Former Vice Mayor Richard Skorman was scarcely his usual mild-mannered self as blasted the board.

“We appreciated your willingness to look into Drake,” he said, “but once you put $130 million into the plant, closure is off the table. I’ve talked to a lot of the stakeholders (about plans to study closure options) and they say don’t waste our time. There’s nothing to talk about. You don’t know what the long-term impacts, environmental and economic of keeping Drake will be. I think this is the worst decision you’ve made as a group.”

Bryce Carter, representing the Sierra Club, echoed Skorman.

“It’s an irresponsible decision,” he said.

And even CSU’s landlord, Chris Jenkins, questioned the board’s wisdom.

“Full investment in Neumann forecloses any early retirement of the plant,” he said.

Then Board members had their say.

Bernie Herpin was baffled by assertions made by activist Eric Verlo that the plant’s emissions are responsible for a higher incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

“My wife’s family brought her here in 1952 from Minnesota because she had asthma,” he said. “The doctors said she should move to a drier climate. Her asthma’s gone now, and we’ve raised our children here, and none of them have asthma, or any other health problems.”

Tim Leigh, who in an email earlier in the day had called for the resignation of the entire board and its replacement by an interim board of “qualified professionals,” tried vainly to persuade his colleagues to revisit the issue.

He was joined by Angela Dougan, Val Snider, and Brandy Williams, but he needed five votes to prevail. Scott Hente, Bernie Herpin, Merv Bennett and a silent Luisa Czeladtko were satisfied with the status quo.

The issue was decided when a clearly torn Jan Martin refused to join the dissenters.

“I see absolutely two parallel tracks here,” she said. “We can go ahead (with Neumann) and begin to study how we can close Drake in 15-20 years. This isn’t something we can do in a year or two – but if previous boards had started the process 10 or 15 years ago, we might be in a different place today.”

Angela Dougan summed up the dissenters’ position.

“We want a full, complete, and open process,” she said, “and that’s not what we have.”

 

7 Responses to Despite complaints, Utilities refuses to reconsider Drake decision

  1. I agree that the Neumann technology should be pursued at Walter Drake. There are many factors which interplay, but the decision Council reached was both wise and practical.
    On the competing side of the table are the desire to outlaw coal -fired plants, per the wishes of Barack Obama, who predicted that doing so “will make electricity prices necessarily skyrocket” and the EPA, who is trying to codify Obama’s plans because Congress refused to comply.
    We do not need skyrocketing electricity prices. We do not need to abandon coal — we need to determine how to burn it more cleanly and capture the emissions produced. This can be done — Neumann has proved that. And it can be done far more economically than shutting down Drake and building a gas-fired plant someplace else in the city.

    Patricia Jahla
    August 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm

  2. ARGH,…

    This is about like the person who gets cancer and becomes the “pro” on the proper diagnosis and treatment through extensive research, analysis, opinion, and for that matter, Wikepedia.

    That person, (with all good intentions and passion) then advises the professionally trained doctor(s), or in this case, engineers, that their opinions and decisions are flawed or should be subject to further and further reevaluation and comment.

    I’ve lived here for 25 years, and as I said to Tim Leigh,…”I like the coal trains coming into town, and I like the fact that we have coal fired facilities that could never be rebuilt if they were closed down”. I like the fact that we have a couple hundred years of inexpensive fuel that can be delivered to our fair city.

    That must say something about my view on global warming, or the price I pay for utilities, or maybe that I’m tired of the amount of community input that “should” be made on decisions we hire professionals to make on our behalf.

    Why don’t we just do away with winner take all voting and have Obama in for half a year and Romney in for the rest of the year.

    Let’s get on down the road.

    jack kerr
    August 23, 2012 at 2:40 pm

  3. We could always expand the CSU/Air Force solar farm to replace the MW’s that Drake supplies our city with – inexpensively.

    The correct course of action is being taken – get the Neumann system completely installed and let’s clean the air better than we are today. Simultaneously begin the study on how to replace Drake with a new cleaner burning (technologies will progress) coal plant south near or on the Nixon plant property. The study will take at least a year, several years to determine the cost to shut down the plant and many more years to remediate the site to make it inhabitable….in parallel, it will take several years to design an new plan (or expand Nixon), several years to get EPA permits for a new plant and many years to get the plant built and operational. (Can’t mothball Drake prior to a new plant – not enough capacity exists today).

    My guess is $1B to build a new plant and shut Drake down and remediate it…and this is just a random estimate in my head…… So how does this get paid for – tax dollars and increased utility fees to the users (oh, the taxpayers).

    Drake should be mothballed and remediated….turned into open space or baseball park or a convention center……however, the new plant or source will be extremely expensive and mininum 15 years to actually be online providing power.

    Ken
    August 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm

  4. Skorman was part of the previous city government that approved the scrubbers for Drake. Now, after $100 million in investment and extremely good results praised by Utilities and outside independent experts, we get cold feet. There’s indeed nothing to talk about. The long-term economic impacts will be reliable, cheap power to grow jobs in the worst economy in 75 years. Environmental effects: 97% less sulfur dioxide in our air, less mercury, and a potential breakthrough on carbon capture. More jobs if Bach and his puppets don’t kill the goose that’s laying the golden eggs.

    Bryce Carter and the Sierra Club are the ones being irresponsible. They’ve abandoned the goal of cleaning up the environment and have suddenly become risk experts on high-technology pollution control systems. Bryce, where’s your Ph.D. in environmental science from?

    The Board members (again) made the right decision. Shall we re-vote on this weekly? Daily? Time to end the debate on move on to much cleaner air and the lowest electric prices on the Front Range.

    Vandy engineer
    August 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm

  5. Well Jack you may feel different if you were the one who developed cancer from the 11 lbs of Mercury that Drake emits annually. And you also may feel different if it was your house that was burned to the ground as a result of global warming.

    Sam Masias
    August 24, 2012 at 5:25 am

  6. 100 million for that old power plant??? no sidewalks or curbs, half the street lights are off, no bus benches in 3/4 of the city, Fillmore bridge falling apart, 3 lane I-25 over crowded, public parks look like crap, public schools way behind times, city streets in sad condition, center dividers overgrown with weeds, public bus system is not reliable, no incentive for residential solar power, 1/2 the downtown businesses are gone…………………………..

    rick
    August 24, 2012 at 5:02 pm

  7. the city is in sad shape. we were told there wasn’t enough tax dollars to improve our city. now i know the corruption that is going on. welcome to the springs!!!!

    paul
    August 24, 2012 at 5:06 pm