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One Drake plant boiler could be activated by end of July

June 19, 2014 Updated: June 19, 2014 at 7:05 am
Caption +
Employees of Colorado Springs Utilities work on Unit #6 at the Martin Drake Power Plant, to get it ready for testing. The Martin Drake Power Plant was shot down by a fire on Unit #5 on May 5. Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

One of three shutdown Martin Drake Power Plant boilers could be up and running by the end of July.

If that happens, the Colorado Springs City Council wants to immediately convene to lower electric rates, council members said Wednesday when they met as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board.

Utilities staffers are working around the clock seven days a week to get two of the three boilers at the coal-fired plant running. All three boilers were shut down May 5 after a fire erupted in the downtown plant.

The fire has cost about $2.17 million in the Drake recovery. Those costs, which are covered by a $500 million insurance policy with a $1 million deductible, include labor, hiring an outside cleanup crew, equipment and extra lights.

Dan Higgins, Utilities interim energy supply general manager, showed the council a series of photos detailing the work inside the plant, which includes building a temporary crane to take apart the boilers to assess the internal damage. Hundreds of tests are being conducted on each of the three boilers called Units 5, 6 and 7, Higgins said.

"We still have a ways to go to get it finalized but there is tremendous progress on Unit 6," he said.

The moment Unit 6 is up and generating power the council wants to meet - even if a special meeting must be called, to lower electric rates - said council member Don Knight.

"Anything we can do to reduce the rates as fast as possible," he said.

Drake supplies about one-third of the electricity used by Utilities customers. Since the fire, Utilities has produced electricity at its Front Range natural gas-fired plant and has purchased natural gas on the market.

At Drake, electricity is produced at 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour. It costs 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour to buy the fuel.

In May, the council approved a 7.4 residential electric rate increase to pay for the estimated $3 million more a month to buy natural gas.

Utilities has purchased 100 megawatts of energy for June and July.

"We are in no jeopardy at this point of being short," said George Luke, Utilities energy services general manager.

The fire was started when a longtime Utilities mechanic changed the wrong filter on a turbine oil system and oil squirted out and hit the hot pipes below, a Colorado Springs Fire Department report says. The Fire Department has not issued a final report.

The fire burned on the south end of the plant and mostly damaged Unit 5. Units 6 and 7, which are north of Unit 5, were mostly affected by the electrical outage and the abrupt shutdown, Higgins said.

Since the fire, rumors have swirled on social media about other recent fires at Martin Drake Power Plant. Utilities spokesman Steve Berry said the last fire at Drake was in October.

Records show small fires in September 2007, December 2007 and January 2009. In the 2009 incident, Utilities work orders show that insulation was repaired on Unit 6 after steam and an oil leak caused a fire. The repair was made the same day the incident was reported and cost $4,158.

The December 2007 work order was related to the September 2007 fire classified as a "cable tray fire" on Unit 5 and cost about $30,500 to repair.

"These small fires are not uncommon, whether it's a coal-fired or natural gas-fired plant," Berry said. "You have these types of minifires periodically because you are dealing with combustion."

In 2002, Unit 7 had an electrical fire, according to a forensic inspection report obtained by The Gazette. A switchgear and auxiliary transformer failed, which ultimately caused the fire.

The report said that the operators were inexperienced with troubleshooting the type of circuit breakers used. That fire cost $400,232 to repair.

None of these incidents triggered an increase in electric rates, Berry said.

Higgins reported to the council that there still is a great deal of work to be done on the Drake building. The floor around Unit 5 was damaged. Steel beams and brick walls were damaged and the roof will need repair, he said.

Utilities crews, along with the contracted crews, will continue a 24-hour operation, Higgins said.

"The things we continue to focus on are the electrical," Higgins said, "which we knew was going to be a significant effort."

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