COLORADO SPRINGS — For the first time in 97 years, coal is no longer burning at the Martin Drake Power Plant in Colorado Springs, with the city citing economic and environmental factors in its decision.
“That didn’t make sense to continue to generate coal at an economic loss,” said Colorado Springs City Councilor and Colorado Springs Utilities Chair Wayne Williams.
Williams said Colorado Springs Utilities bought electricity from purchase-power agreements more at a loewr rate than what was possible from the plant in the southwest corner of downtown Colorado Springs.
Every five years Colorado Springs Utilities develops an ‘integrated resource plan’ to determine how best to power Colorado Springs. It’s a process that includes assessments of the energy market, environmental impacts, and customer input.
The latest plan, finalized in 2020, laid a pathway to close Drake in 2021, 14 years ahead of a previous goal to close the facility in 2035.
“A decision that makes it possible for us to retire this historic, yet highly polluting power plant early.” said Jill Gaebler, a former city councilor who was the CSU board chair when the plan was adopted.
Coal is recognized as the largest contributing to the warming climate, but it’s also quickly becoming one of the most expensive forms of energy.
Natural gas is slightly cheaper with wind power in the same ball park. Solar power has become the most efficient power source for CSU, according to financial leaders with the Utility.
Because of the transmission infrastructure in place at Drake, electricity generation will still occur there for several years. Natural gas generators inside the building will be replaced by temporary General Electric generators outside.
Once natural gas generation takes place outside of Drake, the smoke stacks and power plant will begin to be torn down. That process will likely take a few years.
CSU will need to make more adjustments to lower emissions in its energy portfolio in the future.
Inspired to take action in the wake of a warming climate, Colorado lawmakers passed emission reduction goals in 2019. Those goals stipulate that companies must reduce emissions by 50% – using 2006 measurements – by 2030, and a 90% reduction by 2050.
Gaebler says 80 percent of CSU’s emissions will reduce by 2030.
The same impetus for emission reduction goals will likely put more strain on the system as well.
“We are increasingly reliant on electric,” Williams said. “There is a push to get rid of gas appliances and gas-powered vehicles, so both of those will require more power from Colorado Springs Utilities.”
During peak demand, CSU must generate around 1000mW of electricity. Natural gas generators will make up around 162mW on the Drake site with more natural gas at the Ray Nixon Power Plant totaling around 50% of CSU’s portfolio.
Solar power will more than double soon in Colorado Springs when the Pike View Solar Project is complete. That will add 175mW of electricity to the existing 114mW. Pike View will also have a 25mW battery for electricity storage.
CSU can pull electricity from different energy sources at any given time depending on the demand. In general, its portfolio breaks down as such:
- 50% Natural Gas
- 20% Coal
- 10% Solar
- 10% Wind
- 10% Hydroelectric from water descending from Rampart Reservoir
Nixon will come offline by 2030, in order to meet the 2030 emission reduction goals.
“Clean energy is America’s future and it’s Colorado Springs’ future and that’s a good thing,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.
When Drake is torn down, Suthers predicts new economic and recreational development opportunities for the south end of the city. He says, once it combines with Monument Creek, there is enough flow in Fountain Creek to support a kayak or water park near where Drake currently sits.
“Southwest Downtown in particular is experiencing a renaissance with new restaurants, businesses, hotels and apartment complexes – bringing an assortment of opportunities for residents and visitors alike.” he said.
In addition to the potential for new growth, Suthers says, he’ll appreciate when steam is no longer towering over the city.