Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Springs Utilities board to tackle Drake, solar gardens and power over budgeting

By Monica Mendoza Published: June 17, 2013

The Colorado Springs City Council, acting as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, will tackle three hot-button topics at its monthly meeting Wednesday: community solar gardens, the Drake Power Plant and taking control of the CSU budget.

- The board wants to hire a solar garden developer that can expand the city's solar program by 2 megawatts. It's a scaled back version of an earlier plan, which called for expanding the community solar garden program by 10 megawatts by 2016. That plan was adopted by the previous council, but pulled by the new council in April.

In 2011, Colorado Springs became the first city in the state to launch a pilot solar garden program. Under the program, utility users can buy solar panels in solar gardens and transfer energy into the city's electric system. They then get incentives for participating.

The board wants to develop the solar garden expansion program so that it provides no more than a 13-cent per kilowatt hour incentive for participants. At that rate, utilities officials estimate the program will cost $4.9 million over 20 years.In the earlier version, the solar garden rebate would have cost $23 million over 20 years.

The latest expansion program has not been approved by the City Council and still is in the development phase. If it moves forward, the council could award a contract by October.

-Board member Val Snider wants the Drake Task Force to get back together. The board will be asked Wednesday to re-establish the task force to serve as an oversight group that monitors the Drake Study, which was launched earlier this year to look at whether it would be cost effective to decommission the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant downtown.

The task force was formed earlier this year, and more than 100 people wanted to be on it; nine were chosen. Their key task was to help vet a firm to do the study. After HDR Engineering was chosen to do the study, the task force's work was complete.

Now, Snider wants the task force to help gather public comment and provide an independent review of the study and recommendations about its findings to the utilities board.

-The board, led by chairman Keith King, is expected to vote on establishing three utilities budget committees that give the board more input into CSU's $1 billion budget.

Currently, the board designates budget control to the utilities CEO, Jerry Forte, who also oversees utilities' strategic plan and personnel. That way of governing leaves the board out of the utilities budget process, King said. And the board feels it isn't living up to its fiduciary responsibilities, he said.

A proposed finance committee would scrutinize utilities' financial statements and reports, study its enterprise risk management program and review pricing of products and services. King said the changes mesh with the city's charter and code, which gives City Council authority over the utilities budget.

"These are huge steps," King said.

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