The Drake task force is about one-third of the way through its process of studying the future of the city-owned, coal-fired power plant, and it is conducting a public hearing tonight to keep people informed of what’s at stake.
“We’ve met twice, and we’ve hired a consultant to examine the scenarios about the plant,” said Colorado Springs City Councilor Val Snider, who also sits (by virtue of being elected to Council) on the board of directors at Colorado Springs Utilities. “And we’re ready to talk about what the consultant is going to consider — keeping it open, closing it in various ways and time periods if we close it.”
Last year, the Martin Drake Power Plant was the center of a city-wide controversy and the subject of legal threats by one of the nation’s largest environmental groups, the Sierra Club.
Since this spring, talk about Drake died down, but the task force is plowing ahead toward settling its basic question: what to do with the aging plant near downtown?
HDR is the contractor considering all the economic options for Drake. The consultant group has done work in other parts of the country, and has recommended in some cases that it makes financial sense to keep the plants open instead of closing them and moving toward natural gas or other alternatives.
Can we sell it just the way it is? Close the plant and walk away?”
– Val Snider, City Council
And while there’s no final report yet, and the CSU Board won’t make a decision until early 2014, Snider says it’s important to keep people informed as the process continues.
“We want to be open; we want to be transparent,” he said. “We’re doing this in a very studied way. Unlike most issues Council deals with, on this one, we have time to really study the process.”
That involves HDR studying about 30 different scenarios, he said. And then, the organization will use a matrix to examine the economic, social and environmental factors to narrow the choices to 12. The Utilities Board will have multiple options to consider.
“We’ll have more than one option,” Snider said. “I’m hoping this removes a lot of the political wrangling that normally happens. It’s not a yes or no vote.”
HDR is in the process of studying several options, which range from keeping the plant open to abandoning it in place. Or, it can look at closing it gradually over a period of time. The firm also is considering the costs of mitigating the environmental effects on the soil and surrounding areas if the plant is closed.
Under some of the scenarios, CSU will close the plant in 2033, abandoning the units in place, with no costs to decommission the facility.
NeuStream, designed to remove sulfur dioxide from emissions, will operate from 2015 forward, and other reduction additions will be operational in 2021. Replacement generation would be natural gas.
Another scenario retires one of the units in 2016, and the other two in 2020. The loss of electricity would be covered initially by Front Range Electric Company. The study will consider environmental mitigations as well — removing up to 18 inches of soil, the underground pipes and electrical ducts, either capping or digging up the historic landfill and bringing in new clean soil.
HDR will consider modifications to the facility as well — changing the plant to natural gas, biomass or a combination of natural gas and coal.
In the summer of 2012, the Sierra Club announced it intended to sue the city and Colorado Springs Utilities for alleged violations of state and federal law. No suit has been filed, and the Sierra Club seems to have dropped its legal threats since the task force started its work.
The environmental group wants to close half the coal-fired power plants in the United States by 2020. It’s keeping a close eye on the Drake task force, weighing in with 18 pages of comments about the process.
Among other things, the Sierra Club is concerned that the study capture “all of the social and environmental benefits of eliminating coal combustion at CSU’s Drake units,” the report said.
“Forecasts of environmental and other future regulations, fuel costs and carbon costs should use up-to-date, widely accepted sources. Similarly, the alternative cases must include low-capital-cost options, such as replacing Drake with increased energy efficiency levels or renewable energy, as well as considering fueling Drake with natural gas rather than constructing an entirely new facility.”
But the Sierra Club thinks continued use of Drake as a coal plant will increase the chances the city will run afoul of upcoming state and federal regulations.
“The independent sulfur dioxide modeling commissioned by the Sierra Club shows that Drake will likely trigger non-attainment of the new one-hour SO2 standard in the Colorado Springs region,” the comment said.
Snider said the site had received dozens of comments on the proposed study and its boundaries during the past few months. He hopes that the meeting this week spurred more conversation.
“Our task force meetings have been sparsely attended,” he said. “And I hope people will really start to listen. We have a newsletter that we put out, and we make sure the mayor gets a copy. [Subscribe at draketaskforce.net.] We need everybody to be aware of the process, to weigh in, so we can come to a good result.”