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Shortened life possible for facility supplying a third of city's power

       A public process is getting started on the decommissioning of the Martin Drake Power Plant, which supplies about a third of the city's power.
       A Colorado Springs Utilities "fact sheet" describes the downtown facility, located just east of I-25, as “reliable… cost- effective [and] environmentally responsible.”
       However, a recently released consultant's study for the city reports that its age (units built in 1962, '68 and '74), along with recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations aimed at the carbon dioxide emitted by coal-burning plants, may force the city to shut down Drake considerably sooner than the 20 years that were previously anticipated.
       It is not known yet how its capacity would be replaced, based on previous-meeting discussion by City Council, acting in its dual role as the Utilities Board. There are no plans to build a new coal-fired plant because of the EPA mandates, although a natural gas facility has been suggested.
       The Utilities Board held the first of what's expected to be several public meetings on the subject over the coming months Feb. 19.
       The board heard a presentation from the study's program manager, Navigant Consulting, about 12 alternatives to decommissioning the Drake Power Plant. "Study results indicate the least-cost option is continued operation of Drake long-term (more than 15 years)," a city press release states. "The most favorable sustainability alternative, considering potential environmental and social costs, is retiring the facility in the short term (by 2019)."
       Other decommissioning alternatives include closing Drake in 9 to 15 years.
       In making its decision, "the board will discuss a decision process, timelines and other factors that need to be considered, including the next Electric Integrated Resource Plan [for Springs Utilities], additional public input and the recommendation from the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee regarding the Energy Vision. A board decision on the direction for the organization's future energy supply is expected by summer 2014,” the release states.
       Last year, Springs Utilities figures show that it generated 61 percent of its electricity from coal (half of that from the Drake plant), 30 percent from natural gas, 6.8 percent from hydroelectric power, 2.13 percent from wind and 0.29 percent from solar.
       Coal is the city's cheapest power source, with natural gas second. At Drake, “generation cost, including fuel and debt service coverage, was $41.92 per megawatt hour (MWh) in 2011, compared to $65.69 per MWh for the natural gas-fired Front Range Power Plant,” the website states.
       Previously, a Utilities renewable energy official has said that wind power costs about twice as much as coal and solar over five times as much.
       According to the EPA, the carbon dioxide from coal plants is a major cause of greenhouse gases and human-caused global warming. This position has been disputed by some scientists who point to data showing no discernable warming for the past 15 years.
       In any case, no local government has formally objected to the EPA mandates, and Utilities itself has set a goal for 2020 of providing 20 percent of its total electric energy through renewable sources and reducing average customer use by 10 percent - while keeping its rate to customers 20 percent better than three comparable utilities in the state.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 2/18/14; updated 2/20/14)

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