Lack of adequate information regarding costs of prematurely closing and replacing the generating capacity of the Martin-Drake power plant caused the Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) Board of Directors to put off any decision about accelerating the planned closure from its current target of 2035.
Members of the board, who are also City Council members, said that the community is split nearly down the middle between keeping the plant operating to keep electrical bills low and closing it early for environmental reasons.
A September 2017 J.D. Powers survey found that a small majority would accept an early closure if the impact to their utility bills was only 1 to 2 percent. However, support for moving up the closure date dropped drastically when a 6 percent or greater increase was suggested.
CSU commissioned the survey to gage community perspectives.
Two hours of public comment were heard at Monday afternoon’s overflow-crowd meeting. Those in support of keeping the plant operating were concerned not only with their utility bills but also with the financial impacts of abandoning nearly $200 million in pollution control upgrades recently completed at the facility.
About 30 college students attended, with those who spoke almost universally calling for shutting down the coal-fired plant sooner rather than later. Several students even threatened to leave the city after graduation because they felt that the plant is a health hazard.
Several of those who spoke against the plant mistakenly identified water vapor commonly seen from the cooling stacks as potentially hazardous smokestack emissions.
Board member Andy Pico responded to charges that the plant is polluting the air by presenting several graphs showing that since the installation of the new pollution control equipment plant emissions have dropped dramatically and that Colorado Springs air quality is far better than minimum EPA standards.
On its website CSU says, “This new equipment is successfully demonstrating that it can reduce sulfur dioxide emissions to levels that comply with new regional haze sulfur dioxide permit limits in advance of the 2018 compliance deadline.”
In a 2016 report, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment wrote, “Historical monitoring data for SO2 in Colorado Springs (and the rest of the state) never approached the level of any SO2 standard prior to the installation of the Highway 24 monitor in January 2013.”
While the majority of board members voiced concern over the lack of objective data supporting changing the planned 2035 closure date at this time, board member Richard Skorman felt that more attention to the intangible social and health costs associated with keeping the plant operating was needed.
The board voted to continue pursuing alternative energy and importing power but put off moving the Drake closure date. Members voted to have CSU staff complete more studies including an analysis of the costs of closing and demolishing the plant and remediating the site. The board also requested an estimate of the salvage value of the metals and an appraisal of the site with an eye towards commercial development.
The board also voted to accelerate CSU’s new Electric Integrated Resource Plan (EIRP). The last one was 2016. That’s the report on which decisions about the plant had previously been made. Federal law requires another one in 2020. In order to facilitate continued review of options for the Martin-Drake power plant, the Board asked for a new EIRP by the end of 2019, a year ahead of schedule.