A wide-ranging discussion Wednesday about the future of the Martin Drake Power Plant revealed a variety of opinions about the imposing downtown facility.
Leave it alone. Cover it up with a tent or recruit some “artsy people” to make it pretty. Decommission it to showcase Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs’ natural beauty.
A key question that keeps resurfacing across the community is whether change will increase the cost of electricity.
“As we debate our future of our local utility, we really need to consider the ratepayer as the top priority,” said Kanda Calef, one of about 45 residents attending the discussion.
“We want to keep those rates low, and we want to know that energy is affordable or the economy is not going to thrive here.”
Leadership Pikes Peak hosted the discussion that included panelists Richard Skorman, a downtown businessman and former vice mayor; Bruce McCormick, chief energy services officer for Colorado Springs Utilities; Dan Malinaric, managing director and site manager for Colorado Springs’ Atmel operations, and Scott Harvey, a professional engineer and member of the city’s Utilities Policy Advisory Committee.
Each panelist brought a different perspective.
Skorman touted the aesthetic and environmental benefits of retiring the coal-fired plant.
“Whenever I bring people to town and we come in from the airport, one of the first things they say is, ‘What is that factory in the middle of your downtown?’” he said.
Malinaric, whose company pays about $1.3 million a month in utility costs, said Atmel has partnered with other large power users who want to keep the price of electricity low.
“I’m not for or against coal. I’m for low costs,” he said.
“I believe that people in our community have made some strategic and farsighted decisions in the past to form a utilities that had low costs” to benefit residents and businesses, he said.
Harvey, who called himself a “pragmatic environmentalist,” said the city should plan for nothing but renewable energy sources.
“You can’t wait to come to the dead end of the road,” he said. “You have to make strategic decisions to move towards an inevitable outcome, and renewable energy is that inevitable outcome.”
Harvey suggested utility-scale batteries for Drake.
“They make batteries that will produce 10 megawatts of electricity for seven or eight hours. These batteries are the size of a house,” he said.
McCormick said Utilities, a four-service utility owned by the city, believes Drake is the lowest cost option based on previous assumptions. But “based on the assumptions that we’re talking about today,” it’s unknown, he said.
The City Council, acting as the Utilities Board, is leading a study to look at decommissioning Drake in 15 years or sooner.
The regulatory environment is also changing, McCormick told the audience.
“Will there be legislation that says there will be a tax on every molecule of carbon that we burn? That truly is the unknown,” he said.
Another unknown is the future of an emissions control technology that Springs-based Neumann Systems Group is installing at Drake. Some council members and community leaders, including Mayor Steve Bach, have called for a timeout on the project until the study is completed.
But a majority on the Utilities Board has decided to move forward.
Meanwhile, Neumann announced Wednesday plans to ask the board to approve a “green” industrial plant next to Drake. The plant would use a “green chemistry” process to “extract strategic and rare earth metals and other materials from the fly ash generated at the plant,” Neumann said in a news release.
Three council members said they were unaware of the proposal but were intrigued about the possibility of new jobs.