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Decision made, but Drake debate continues

July 30, 2012
photo - 
	 Photo by Gazette file
Photo by Gazette file 

The vote to move forward with plans to install emissions control technology at the city-owned Martin Drake Power Plant downtown already happened.

In fact, Colorado Springs Utilities purchased equipment that had previously been on hold.

Despite all that, the debate about the future of the coal-fired power plant and the homegrown technology that’s being tested there is far from over.

It started Friday when Mayor Steve Bach said he hoped the City Council would reverse its decision to install the Neumann Systems Group scrubber technology. The council, acting as the Utilities Board, voted 7-2 to green light the project after considering putting it on pause.

City Councilman Tim Leigh, who voted in support of the plan, flip-flopped Friday and said the decision needed to be revisited.

“At that (July 18) meeting, we were told that the lowest cost option for the ratepayers was to install the scrubbers at Drake and to continue to operate a coal plant,” Leigh said Monday.

“After that board meeting, I was told in fact that the Ray Nixon Power Plant was the least cost option and I was given data to support that,” he said.

City Councilwoman Angela Dougan, who voted against installing the technology and delaying until 2013 a study on decommissioning Drake, said the decision was made without all the facts.

“All I know is that the (Utilities Board) needs to start running utilities instead of the other way around,” Dougan said on Facebook.

Dougan and Leigh are allies of the mayor.

On Sunday night, former Mayor Lionel Rivera got involved in the debate. Rivera sent the City Council an email stating that the conversation about Drake these days seemed to be more about politics and aesthetics than the cost to ratepayers.

“I view it as a political decision whether or not you want to decommission the Drake plant based on aesthetics and maybe a higher use, in someone else’s opinion, of the land versus what’s the cost to the ratepayers,” Rivera said in a telephone interview Monday.

“If you look strictly from the economic side of it and the cost to the ratepayers, unless things have changed dramatically in the last four years, it wouldn’t make economic sense to decommission Drake,” he said.

Rivera said he sent council the email to give them the facts about the previous council’s decision to move forward with the scrubber technology and also to address “contrived information from an unnamed source” that Leigh put out on Friday.

“Councilmember Leigh’s newsletter was full of incorrect information, and I did my best to set the facts straight,” Rivera said. “I’m surprised Mr. Leigh wouldn’t do his homework before he sends out his information.”

Leigh said he got his information from a trustworthy source: former City Councilman Tom Gallagher.

“Why can’t I trust what he’s telling me to be the truth?” Leigh asked.

Leigh said he knew he didn’t have enough support among his colleagues to “sway” a vote on Drake.

But he said the conversation shouldn’t be about Drake or the Neumann technology. Rather, he said the city should be engaging in a larger conversation about the role of Utilities, a billion-dollar-plus city enterprise, in a “broader community strategy.”

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