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Colorado Springs Utilities seeks to have two of three Drake boilers running by fall

By: Emily Donovan
June 10, 2014 Updated: June 18, 2014 at 6:20 pm
Caption +
Dan Higgins, Interim Manager of the Colorado Springs Utility Energy Supply Dept., shines a flashlight on the oil pressure and sensing equipment located beneath Unit #5 while leading the most recent media tour of the Martin Drake Power Plant on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The melted equipment was the point of origin for the fire that shut down the power plant. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

Martin Drake Power Plant - shut down since a May 5 fire - should be mostly operational by this fall, a Colorado Springs Utilities spokesperson said during a media tour of the plant Tuesday.

The fire erupted when a mechanic changed the wrong filter, spraying oil on hot steam pipes. More than 100 Colorado Springs firefighters responded to the blaze at the downtown plant, which produced one-third of Colorado Springs Utilities customers' electricity.

Utilities' short-term goal is to repair two of the three boiler units at the plant. The two boilers - known as Unit No. 6 and Unit No. 7 - produced 82 percent of Drake's electrical energy prior to the blaze.

Utilities officials said Unit No. 6, which produced 77 megawatts an hour before the fire, should be working in July; Unit No. 7, which produced 131 megawatts an hour, should be fixed by fall.

Unit No. 5, which produced the other 46 megawatts of power at the plant and was closest to the fire, won't be inspected for some time.

"We don't know how serious the damage is yet on 5 because we haven't been able to lift all the covers yet," said Dan Higgins, Utilities energy supply department interim general manager.

The boilers have aluminum and layered insulation covers, designed to resist high temperatures. The covers may have protected the boilers' turbines and engines from the fire's heat, but they also prevent Utilities from accessing them now.

A crane used to lift the covers was damaged in the fire but should be repaired within days. Once the crane is working, Utilities can take the cover off Unit No. 7 to inspect damage and get a more accurate repair estimate date.

The crane also won't be able to reach Unit No. 5 until a section of rafter that was warped in the fire is replaced. Additionally, oil pressure control, paneling and piping near Unit 5 will have to be removed and replaced.

The fire was estimated to have reached 2,000 or 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit in certain areas. The heat charred sections of sheet metal and structural steel roof over Unit No. 5 and warped a steel ladder into a cartoonish wave.

Building damage isn't what's costing customers, though. After Drake pays a $1 million deductible, insurance pays up to $500 million for repairs, Higgins said.

Customers are paying to import electricity from other power plants while Drake is closed.

Electricity produced at Drake cost about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Electricity purchased to supplement demand while Drake is closed costs about 4 cents per kilowatt hour. Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said this electricity is more expensive because it's natural gas and has to be transported to customers in Colorado Springs from farther away.

The Colorado Springs City Council recently approved a 7.4 percent increase in electric rates starting June 1, meaning a typical residential customer will pay $5.34 more a month. Berry expects the rate to go back down when Units No. 6 and 7 are running again.

Berry said at least 80 of Drake's 88 employees are working on-site making repairs and working maintenance.

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