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GUEST COLUMN: Reasons to close Martin Drake Plant

By: ROBIN IZER-by robin Izer Guest opinion
June 11, 2018 Updated: June 11, 2018 at 4:15 am
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Caption +
Looking east toward the Martin Drake Power Plant as heavy smoke pours out of the plant Monday morning, May 5, 2014. Photo by Andrew Froehlich

A coalition of ever-expanding concerned citizens of the Pikes Peak region continue to pressure the Colorado Springs Utilities Board to close the Martin Drake coal plant by 2023. The shifting energy economics increasingly demonstrate that renewable energy sources are the less expensive wave of the future, and our region deserves the health benefits of cleaner technology. It is our informed opinion that coal-fired energy is dangerous, dirty, and defunct.

Our mission to close Drake by 2023 is grounded in the following facts:

- Drake's operational structure is based on 19th century coal-fired technology. The plant is nearly 100 years old, and the aging infrastructure is increasingly expensive to maintain. In fact, Drake is the least efficient coal plant in Colorado, and that means it's wasting our money.

- Cities and utilities around the country are closing down old coal plants because the costs of clean energy and new battery storage technologies are now competitive with fossil fuels. A recent report from Moody's Investor Services shows the Drake coal plant is "at risk" because the average price of new wind and solar projects are now more affordable, and that gap is only widening.

- A Gazette editorial from March 17 detailed how one of the major disadvantages of coal, as compared to renewable energy, is that "coal will continue paying transportation and conversion costs largely avoided by new competitors." In other words, once you build renewable energy, you don't have to pay for fuel or worry about price fluctuations in the market. There is no fuel cost with renewable energy.

- Drake is the only coal-fired power plant in Colorado still in an urban downtown area, adjacent to businesses and residents. Combustion of coal at a power plant releases a host of toxic chemicals including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide (SO2), lead, selenium, and mercury. Coal plants are a danger to public and environmental health no matter where they are, but they pose an acute danger when they are in the heart of a community.

- Colorado Springs Utilities completed installation of a very costly system of SO2 pollution controls (Neumann Systems Group scrubbers) on Units 6 & 7 of the Drake power plant, which have shown to remove significant amounts of pollution. However, data shows significant downtime where the scrubbers are not operating and may be in violation of federal SO2 standards. Only 5 minutes of exposure to SO2 can cause heart and lung issues.

- Coal dust blows into the air from the trains transporting the coal through downtown Colorado Springs, which degrades air quality and exposes nearby residents and businesses to toxic dust inhalation. A study from BNSF Railway found that a single train car full of coal can lose between 500 pounds and 1 ton of coal on single trip from coal mine to coal plant.

- Coal ash, the waste product left after coal is burned, contains arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, barium, boron, chlorine, etc. These toxins are linked to organ disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, neurological damage, and developmental challenges.

- Keeping the aging, dirty, expensive Drake coal plant open longer threatens the long-term economic success of Colorado Springs since prospective businesses and employees would rather live in one of the many cities across the country that have prioritized public health and investments in new, clean energy infrastructure.

- Retiring Drake will open up more opportunity for sustainable job growth in Colorado Springs. Colorado's clean energy and energy efficiency industries already create more jobs than coal and gas combined. Clean energy job growth will continue in other parts of Colorado where utilities are investing in new clean energy infrastructure. For instance, the state's largest utility - Xcel Energy - plans to raise its share of electricity from renewable energy to 55 percent by 2026. In Colorado Springs, however, we are set to fall short of our meager goal of reaching 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.

Utilities has the technology, expertise, and dedicated staff to retire Drake's 19th-century technology sooner than later. All that needs to be added to the solution is the political will and leadership to move Colorado Springs into the 21st century.

Make no mistake, we are here to make certain this shift into our energy future is accomplished.

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Robin Izer is a published poet and a retired paraprofessional and substitute teacher who worked for Colorado Springs School District 11 and Cheyenne Mountain School District 12, after an active career in the nonprofit sector in Colorado Springs. Izer is an environmental activist and volunteer supporting the efforts of the Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org and the Sierra Club.

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