September 1, 2014 Updated: September 1, 2014 at 7:43 am
It could be a year before the Colorado Springs City Council makes a decision on when to decommission the Martin Drake Power Plant.
The council, which doubles as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, asked Utilities staff Aug. 20 to run a number of scenarios describing what life would be like without the downtown coal-fired plant in five years, nine years, 16 years and 20 years. The scenarios will look at energy supply and demand if Drake were closed in each of those time frames.
Councilman Val Snider, chairman of the Drake task force, hoped that the council would have narrowed its timeline on when to decommission Drake by the end of this summer. He wanted the council to give staff one specific time frame, like close the plant in five years or nine years.
But now, Snider said, it makes more sense to first update the Utilities Electric Integrated Resource Plan, a 20-year outlook of electricity supply and demand. That plan considers coal and gas market prices, environmental regulations, demand-side management programs and renewable energy programs such as solar and wind.
Updating that plan is expected to take one year. Utilities is convening an advisory committee to help evaluate the data. The plan was updated in 2011 with the results published in 2012.
"The timeline for the closing of Drake is not a standalone decision," Snider said. "It is to be incorporated into the new EIRP. We won't know when to close Drake until all the scenarios are run."
Drake's three boilers, Nos. 5, 6 and 7, were built in 1962, 1968 and 1974, respectively. The plant produces one-third of the electricity used by Utilities customers. In May, fire erupted inside the plant and stopped production. Two of three boilers are back online. It still is unknown, however, if the unit No. 5 damaged in the fire can be repaired.
Last year, the Utilities board set up the Drake task force to begin discussing when or if the power plant should be shut down. Cities across the country are shuttering coal plants - more than 30 coal-fired plants have closed in the wake of strict Environmental Protection Agency regulations, including emissions control.
Utilities is spending $131 million to upgrade Drake with scrubber technology, which promises to remove sulfur dioxide.
In June, the Obama administration released its Clean Power Plan, which would require power plants to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030 below 2005 levels. It could be one of the biggest drivers in updating the electric plan, said Scott Harvey, who was a member of the 2011 electric plan advisory committee.
Harvey called it a prudent move by the council to update the electric plan first and then make a decision on when to decommission Drake.
"The EIRP is a how-to plan, as in if we want to do this, how would we do it, what resources would we employ to pull it off?" he said.