Mayor Steve Bach’s vision for downtown Colorado Springs includes more power hitters and one fewer power plant.
The mayor, who has been in office nearly a year, has had separate but related conversations with executives from Xcel Energy and the Sky Sox minor league baseball team in what appears to be a larger plan to revitalize downtown.
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The meetings appeared in the mayor’s 2012 calendar, which The Gazette obtained after prolonged negotiations with the city following a request under the Colorado Open Records Act.
On Jan. 12, Bach talked on the phone with Roy Palmer, Xcel’s senior vice president of public policy and external affairs. Xcel, based in Minneapolis, provides electricty to 3.4 million customers and natural gas to 1.9 million customers in eight Midwestern and Western states, including Colorado.
“He wanted to tell me that Xcel Energy would have an interest in acquiring our electric generating capacity and/or some sort of a joint venture,” Bach said Tuesday.
“I explained to him that Colorado Springs Utilities reports to the City Council and that he should be talking to (council President) Scott Hente, so I gave him Scott’s phone number,” he said.
Colorado Springs Utilities is a billion-dollar-plus enterprise of the city. Hente, who also serves as Utilities Board chairman, said he hasn't heard from anyone from Xcel.
While Utilities sells excess capacity, Hente said he doesn't believe it should sell its power plants.
"When you own your own power plants, you control your own destiny," he said.
When asked about the phone call with Bach, Xcel Energy was vague.
“Because Colorado’s generation and electric systems for all utilities are interconnected through the grid we are always interested in discussing whether synergies exist,” spokesman Gabriel Romero said in a statement.
“However, as a publicly traded company Xcel Energy routinely doesn't comment upon or discuss details of business discussions,” he said.
Bach said he didn't know whether it would be a good idea to partner with Xcel.
"I do think this: Before we spend $251 million upgrading Martin Drake Power Plant downtown that we should step back and take a look at all the options," he said. "I'm not close enough to know what those options are, but what are the alternatives? What are the pros and cons?"
On Jan. 20, Bach met with Sky Sox General Manager Tony Ensor and former general manager Fred Whitacre for an hour. Others were also at the meeting, including Steve Cox, the mayor’s chief of economic vitality and innovation.
Bach said Tuesday that he also met with co-owner Doug Elmore, though that meeting is not listed on the mayor’s calendar. Bach said the Elmore family is a past client of his commercial real estate brokerage company and that he’s known the family for a long time.
Bach said Doug Elmore, who lives in Chicago, was in town and the two had not had a chance to talk since Bach became mayor.
“He wanted to just catch up,” Bach said.
“I did surface the idea: It would be wonderful to have the Sky Sox downtown. His comment was that they had their best season ever last summer and that their stadium is paid for,” he said.
Officials from the Sky Sox did not immediately return a call for comment.
Bach said he doesn’t know the likelihood of moving the Sky Sox downtown, an idea that has been floated for years, but that the city needs to get “downtown squared away first.”
“We really haven’t had any substantive conversations since that time, and I haven’t pursued it because I think we have to get the downtown safety plan in place,” he said, referring to efforts to install surveillance cameras and make downtown a safer place.
“I hope we can have an I-25 and Cimarron reconstruction plan on the books at least, and I think we have to resolve Martin Drake Power Plant,” he said.
Bach said the city should consider the possibility of moving the coal-fired power plant, just south of downtown.
Others have the same idea. City Councilwoman Lisa Czelatdko, who represents downtown, recently requested that Springs Utilities conduct a study examining the possibility of phasing out the power plant in 10 to 20 years.
Bach said he’d like to know the “cost feasibility” of moving the power plant.
“I’ve asked President Hente to effect a hiatus on further improvements to Martin Drake – $251 million coming up, from what I’ve been told – until we can have a community conversation and better understand: Is that the right thing to do? Is that the only recourse? What are the alternatives?” Bach said. “I think we need to get that on the table.”