More than 30 residents called on Colorado Springs Utilities on Wednesday to invest in a future energy mix that would rely more on renewable electricity than natural gas once the city has closed its coal-powered plants.
"Gas just can’t be a substitute for coal, it needs to be a bridge to renewables," clean energy advocate Jenna Lozano said.
The option most residents backed would rely more heavily on wind turbines and battery storage compared to a recommendation by the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, which pushed natural gas. Deciding the issue will be the Colorado Springs Utilities board, which is also Colorado Springs City Council. Residents pointed out moving to renewable energy could come with less risk because wind is free and natural gas could be subject to the uncertain pricing of commodity markets and unknown future regulations because it produces greenhouses gases, including methane.
The Colorado Springs Utilities board will decide on what future energy mix to pursue and a set goal dates for closing the coal-powered portions of Martin Drake and Nixon power plants on June 26.
To comply with state law, the board must select an energy mix that will cut the utilities' carbon emissions 80% by 2030 from 2005 levels. Utilities must end coal-fired generation at Drake and Nixon by 2030 to meet the 80% carbon reduction goal.
The plans backed by the advisory committee and advocates would both shutter Drake by 2023 and Nixon by 2030 and allow utilities to run on 90% renewable energy by 2050. Both plans would also rely on mobile natural gas generators to replace the coal-fired power at Drake. The plans differ in the energy that would be used to replace the coal-fired energy at Nixon.
The advocate-backed plan would set set a clear direction for the city focused on clean energy and make it attractive to young talented workers businesses in the area are looking to recruit, said Susan Edmondson, executive director of the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership.
"I think it’s an incredible opportunity for our city to set something bold out there," she said.
Natural gas production and the greenhouse gases associated also contribute poorer community health and climate change, residents said.
"The science on climate change is overwhelming and we must act by reducing our emissions," resident Jillian Freeland said.
Utilities advisory committee member Gary Burghart spoke against relying heavily on wind energy because it kills birds. Wind farms are unsightly, wind equipment can be short-lived and difficult to dispose of, and the city would have to rely on outside wind energy companies for power, he added. The advocate-backed plan would also be more expensive, said Burghart, speaking as a resident, not a committee representative.
Over the next 10 years, the two plans would be identical, said Scott Harvey, an advisory committee member speaking as a resident. However, in the long term, the plan backed by the committee is probably the least environmentally responsible, he said.
"That’s not really the long-term outcome we want."
Utilities will reevaluate its future energy mix in five years and at that time it could shift its plans toward a 100% renewable energy mix. The committee did not back a plan for utilities to be 100% renewable by 2050 because of the cost, Harvey said. But it is ultimately preferable to plans backed by the committee and advocates, he said.