Two coal-fired power generators at the Martin Drake Power Plant downtown are among hundreds across the United States that are “ripe for retirement and should be considered for closure,” according to a study by the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists.
The study, issued Tuesday by the group, was provided to the media by the Sierra Club, which is threatening to sue Colorado Springs Utilities for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at Drake and the Ray Nixon Power Plant. Both plants are owned by the city.
“Today’s report offers even more evidence of the economic drag the Martin Drake coal-fired power plant has on Colorado Springs and raises again the question of why Utilities is sinking more money into the plant,” Bryce Carter, an organizer with the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
“With this independent analysis, it is clear that the Martin Drake coal-fired power plant does not make economic sense for our community,” he said.
Drake - run by the city-owned, four-service Utilities - has been the subject of intense debate for months.
"Colorado Springs Utilities' goal is to provide the lowest cost, most reliable utility service while meeting all environmental regulations," Utilities' spokesman Dave Grossman said in a news release. "The future cost to generate electricity using coal versus natural gas was thoroughly studied in the 2012 Electric Integrated Resource Plan.
"The cost of natural gas generation is forecast to be nearly three times higher than coal (based on the medium forecast for both) in 2030. Even with the cost of current and expected forecasted emissions control requirements for coal included, electric generation from coal is expected to be less expensive than from natural gas."
City Council, acting as the Utilities Board, is embarking on a study to look at decommissioning Drake in 15 years as well as the economic impacts of decommissioning the facility even sooner.
At the same time, Utilities is moving forward with a $121 million plan to install emissions control technology at the aging facility. Utilities has already invested tens of millions of dollars in the project, and the proposed 2013 budget includes $39 million for the scrubbers, which were invented by Springs-based Neumann Systems Group.
Three council members – Angela Dougan, Tim Leigh and Brandy Williams – are threatening to vote against Utilities' $1 billion budget unless the $39 million line item for the scrubbers is bifurcated from the rest of the budget.
“It’s my intention to not vote to approve the budget because I’m vehemently not in favor of that spend,” Leigh said Monday.
Williams said she continues to believe that the decommissioning study should be completed first.
“Before we spend $121 million putting scrubbers on Drake, let’s look at our system and see how Drake fits into it because it might have a different future if we go through the study process first,” she said. “But by committing to spend $121 million, I see that we’re going about that procedure backwards.”
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, two of three of Drake’s coal-fired power generators are “old, inefficient, dirty and no longer economically competitive.” The group describes itself as “a science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world.”
“Regulators should require utility companies to carefully consider whether ratepayers would be better off by retiring old coal plants and boosting electricity generation from natural gas and renewable energy sources like wind,” Steve Frenkel, co-author of the report, said in a statement. “Spending billions to upgrade old coal plants may simply be throwing good money after bad.”