Colorado Springs Utilities Board Voted to Set a Date to Retire One of its Coal-Fired Power Plants

On Wednesday, November 18, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board took a big step forward in the transition to cleaner energy. The Board, which is also the city’s elected city council, stunned many in the audience when they voted on several items advancing clean energy, a change from their past carbon-intensive approach to generating power. These items were:

  • Approving resource Portfolio D, which adopts 80 MW of solar before 2020.
  • Amending the portfolio to include higher levels of energy efficiency, and, the most surprising element –
  • Setting a date to permanently close all of the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant before 2035. Under the adopted portfolio, two of the three units at the plant are likely to retire in 2018 and 2023. (The board has to vote to finalize plans for Unit 5, the smallest unit, in December.)
  • Passing a resolution for utilities to immediately begin developing a transition plan for the plant.

Western Resource Advocates joined with local partners and provided analysis and information to advocate that Colorado Springs begin decommissioning their coal-fired power plant and develop plans to comply with EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Colorado Springs Utilities now has a resource plan in place that will shape investments over the next 3–5 years, and that portfolio can readily enable Colorado Springs Utilities to comply with the Clean Power Plan – the nation’s first regulations to address carbon pollution from existing power plants. Perhaps most importantly, Colorado Springs will see a future with cleaner air, and as many in the community reiterated to the Utilities Board last Wednesday, the city can now realize an important opportunity to develop the downtown site where the Martin Drake plant operates.

Long-Term Resource Plan Evaluated Many Issues, Including the Clean Power Plan

Over the past year, Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) has been developing its long-term electric resource plan. The resource plan evaluated issues the utility will face over the next twenty years and informs CSU’s decisions and investments in power generation over the next 3–5 years.

Through the planning process, CSU staff evaluated a host of issues, including traditional resource planning issues such as changes in consumer demand and the cost of energy supplies; community preferences such as how much to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency; and environmental regulations such as new ozone pollution standards and the Clean Power Plan. Western Resource Advocates engaged with the utilities staff and other stakeholders to ensure that these carbon pollution regulations were adequately considered in its long-range plans – the utilities staff did a good job.

A key issue in CSU’s resource plan was the future of the Martin Drake Power Plant, an aging coal-fired plant in downtown Colorado Springs. The plant, whose units began operation between 1962 and 1974, will likely need new pollution controls in the next decade to reduce ozone pollution (a key precursor to smog).

Colorado Springs Utilities staff developed 87 different scenarios for how they could meet energy demands in the future, combining different demand forecasts, energy prices, and community goals. From those scenarios, staff created ten energy portfolios; the staff recommended Portfolio D. While Portfolio D begins the transition away from their Drake coal-fired plant, it really only began it. The amendment adopted by the Utilities Board sets a date for retiring Drake, which is an important addition to Portfolio D, providing Colorado Springs a clear timeline.

Next Steps: Supporting the Adoption of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

The Utilities Board must vote on one final issue in December – the future of Drake Unit 5. Then the utilities staff begin the process of implementing the new resource plan. WRA will continue to support utilities in their acquisition of energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. These are important steps toward enabling the full decommissioning of the coal-fired Drake plant and implementing the transition to cleaner energy supplies that the Utilities Board set in motion.

To learn more, see the background brief comparing the portfolios that WRA developed, and recent articles in the Colorado Springs Gazette, including an editorial by the Gazette Editorial Board:

  1. Background Brief: Colorado Springs Utilities’ Electric Resource Plan
  2. November 18, 2015: Colorado Springs Utilities board surprises many with vote to close controversial power plant
  3. November 22, 2015: Decision on Drake is strong, decisive
  4. September 28, 2015: Downtown stakeholders unhappy with expected power plan recommendation for Colorado Springs Utilities 
  5. July 26, 2015: Colorado Springs Utilities working on plans for future of Drake power plant

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