Updated: March 20, 2014 at 6:29 pm
It appears the Colorado Springs City Council is not interested in closing the Martin Drake coal-fired power plant in the immediate future.
A majority of the council, sitting as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, indicated this week that closing Drake in the short term is off the discussion table. Instead, the council will consider a decommissioning date nine to 15 years out or longer.
Over the next few months the City Council is set to deliberate over financial and environmental reports related to the downtown Drake plant. It will study greenhouse gas emissions and air contaminants with the goal of making a decision by summer on whether Utilities should decommission the plant or keep it open.
The council has 12 alternatives to consider. Among them is closing Drake in the next three to five years and replacing the energy source with natural gas, which would cost about $242 million more than keeping the plant open for 20 years.
But an immediate closure of Drake has more social and environmental benefits, according to a report by an independent consultant hired by the Utilities Board. The report estimates Utilities would avoid spending $753 million - the monetized value of the repercussions of greenhouse gas emission and other environmental and social costs.
Resident Bonnie Ann Smith who closely follows the Drake issue, objected Wednesday to the council's comments that a short-term closure would not be considered. Smith said the board paid to have a study of 12 options and it should not ignore one of the options.
"You are taking it off the table before they (residents) even get a chance to say what they want," Smith said.
The council is planning to host a number of community meetings seeking input on whether to keep or shutter Drake.
Drake was built in three phases in 1964, 1968 and 1974. Last year, the Utilities board set up the Drake Task Force to begin discussing when or if the power plant should be shut down.
It would cost about $5.2 billion in capital costs, fixed operating costs, operations and maintenance costs and fuel costs to operate Drake until 2033. Those costs include the installation of Neumann Systems Group's NeuStream scrubber system, which is estimated to cost $131 million and has a goal of improving air quality and reducing pollution to meet federal environmental guidelines.
One of the options presented in the Drake Task Force consultant's report is to close Drake by 2019. But it would mean shutting down the scrubber project, which is already underway and has about 70 percent of the $131 million committed.
Council member Val Snider, who with council member Andy Pico is leading the Drake Task Force, was attempting this week to gauge whether the council wanted to consider ranges for closure in its deliberations rather than try to zero in on a specific date. He was surprised when council members said they would not consider a short-term closure.
A short-term range would be four to nine years, a midterm range would be nine to 15 years and a long-term range would be 15 years and beyond.
Council member Joel Miller said he would not consider the short-term range because it could take seven years to plan the decommissioning of Drake and its energy replacement.
Miller also wants to postpone a Drake decision until Utilities updates its Electric Integrated Resource Plan - a plan that maps out the Utilities electric resources, use and demand for the next 20 years. Drake, he said, is a critical component of the overall energy plan and it wouldn't make sense to set a time for Drake's closure without considering how it factors into the 20-year energy plan.
The update to the energy plan will begin later this year and could take up to one year, said John Romero, Utilities general manager of acquisition, engineering and planning.
"I would not feel comfortable making a policy decision on Drake unless it was part of the entire EIRP," Miller said.
Council members Don Knight, Merv Bennett and Jill Gaebler also said they would rather consider a mid- or long-range option for closure. It would give Utilities more flexibility to plan, Gaebler said.
However, she does want the council to host multiple community meetings for citizen input.
"This issue is easily as important if not more important than City for Champions," Gaebler said.
Organizers of the proposed City for Champions projects host monthly meetings to give updates on the four proposed tourism projects.
Keeping Drake open for 30 years is the most cost effective plan, according to the consultant's report. Council president Keith King and Pico said they are leaning toward a long-term range for possible closure of Drake.
"My concerns on range are the replacement costs," King said "The long-term window is by far the most economic and feasible."
Snider said the council will hear from a coal industry expert in April and there are at least two community meetings scheduled for public input.
"When they (the council) said they don't agree on short term, shame on them," Snider said. "We have not talked to the public yet."