As Martin Drake is phased out, alternative energy options are being considered
A ride on Interstate 25 past Fort Carson is a good indicator on where Southern Colorado is moving with regard to energy. Each home in the military base is equipped with a full slate solar panels, the energy source has not only proven to be more cost-efficient over time, but also better for the environment.
Similarly, Colorado Springs is moving toward cleaner energy as it phases out its downtown power plant, the Martin Drake Power Plant. The 185-megawatt, coal-fired plant has been a centerpiece of Colorado Springs’ energy needs for years. It was also the centerpiece of the city’s economy for a long period of time, before the city began trending towards aeronautics and technology.
The decommissioning plan for the Martin Drake site came out of a 2015 vote from the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, which voted in favor of phasing out the plant no later than 2035. The process began last year as the smallest and oldest unit of the three generating units at the plant, Unit 5, was retired.
According to Colorado Springs Utilities, “the plant has been well maintained over the years to operate efficiently and reliably,” even though it has been around for almost a century. In their 2016 annual report, Colorado Springs Utilities also claimed that the plant is ahead of schedule when it comes to complying with EPA regulations.
“Emissions controls construction work at the Marin Drake Power Plant was completed and Colorado Springs Utilities took over operations of the scrubber system that will significantly reduce the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions well in advance of the new EPA air quality regulations that take effect December 2017,” the report states.
Though the decommission plan is perceived a logical step in Colorado Springs moving further towards cleaner energy, the Colorado Springs Utilities is a community-owned utility, meaning it is subject to local decisions and local feedback.
“Last year the Utilities Board set a decommissioning date for the plant of no later than 2035,” said Utilities CEO Jerry Forte in the Colorado Springs Utilities newsletter ‘Connections.’ “However, with evolving community perspectives, we are studying additional alternatives to the current closure date. Between now and the end of the year, the Utilities Board will look at a number of options to include financial impacts, potential utility uses for the site, economic development opportunities and downtown revitalization plans.”
Over the years, Colorado Springs has been progressively moving away from coal-powered energy to cleaner sources such as natural gas and renewable energy. The city began its implementation of the 2016 Electric Integrated Resource Plan (EIRP) last year. The 20-year plan includes a goal to provide 20 percent total electric energy through renewable sources by 2020. Aiding that progress is the grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs that Colorado Springs Utilities was awarded in order to construct a second Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling station at the John Pinkerton Service Center.
“The EIRP was designed to ensure that we meet future energy demand,” Forte stated. “The result is a plan that focuses on reliable power that is respectful of the environment, while minimizing costs to customers. Our Energy Vision ensures that we’re progressing toward our goals of using more renewable sources and helping customers use energy wisely.”
Part of that process includes taking a long-standing plant out of commission, without it leaving a void in the Colorado Springs economy.
“With ever-increasing demand and finite and expensive resources, it is our responsibility to plan and prepare now so that future generations can thrive locally, just as we do today,” Forte said. “We are on track. The efforts mentioned and many more are driving Colorado Springs Utilities’ promise to provide for future generations.”