Council vote on Drake: Just a gesture or real intent?

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Did City Council actually decide to close the downtown Drake Power Plant, as the Gazette reported Thursday morning?
Or did Council, acting as the Utility Board, simply adopt a feel-good statement of intent?
City Councilor Tom Strand gave an impassioned speech from the dais (or, more accurately, from his seat at the semicircular table set up in a cramped meeting room at CSU’s headquarters), emphasizing the importance of “driving a stake” as the first step in the decommissioning press.
Strand first suggested that the facility be decommissioned by 2030, but caved when Keith King announced that he’d support 2035. After a few members of the public had their say, and after some discussion among councilors, the 2035 date was approved by a 5-4 margin.
It may be a stake in the ground, but it’s one that has no immediate effect. No funds will be appropriated, no bids will be solicited and no replacement power source will be planned. It might be business as usual for the next few years.
Absent concrete steps toward decommissioning, the board’s action will neither bind nor affect decisions made by future boards. None of the nine board members who met Wednesday afternoon will be on Council eight years hence, let alone in 2035. Indeed, standard mortality tables suggest that only board members Jill Gaebler and Don Knight will outlive Drake.
Downtown Partnership Executive Director Susan Edmondson supported setting a date for the plant’s decommissioning, noting that businesses interested in locating downtown want to “see a plan for the future — and we don’t have a clear plan.”
Chuck Murphy was blunt and forceful, as usual.
“I’d love to see the plant decommissioned tomorrow,” he said. “Let’s talk about the beauty of our city — this thing is ugly.”
And downtown property owner Chris Jenkins reminded Councilors that one of the canyons in Red Rocks open space had once been a municipal dump.
“Now we don’t dump our trash there,” he said. “We decided to close the dump and preserve open space. We can also make legacy decisions today.”
And he noted that the downtown coal-fired power plant is a real negative for contemporary businesspeople.
“We’re getting our building LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified,” he continued. “We think it’s the right thing to do, and it’s aligned with the values of our customers.”

Longtime Drake opponent Lee Milner called the vote “a modest victory.”

“We worked very hard to get to this point,” he said. “It’s better to have this than no timeline at all. I’m also really happy that Council approved Keith King’s suggestion to raise (the share of) demand-side management from 10 percent to 12 percent. Without that, I would have given Council a D+, but with it I think they deserve a gentleman’s C.”

Downtown businessman Richard Skorman, who has been involved with virtually every effort to improve downtown during the last 40 years, noted that major downtown projects such as the Cimarron interchange, the Antlers renovation, the Legacy Loop trail and the Olympic Museum may not trigger follow-up investments as long as Drake “towers in the background.”

“With Drake in place as the only coal train customer in downtown,” Skorman added in a letter to all utility board members, “we can never plan for moving the rail-switching yard, freight and coal trains out of downtown to eventually be replaced by Front Range passenger rail.”

“I’m disappointed,” said Skorman after the board’s action. “Just kicking the can forward to 2035 — that doesn’t make much sense to me.”

While the 2035 date may not have any immediate effect, the Board did not rule out the option of closing the facility earlier.

Next month, the board will decide whether to shut down Drake 5, the oldest generator in the plant. The board is expected to approve the shut down, removing 46 megawatts of generating capacity from the plant. Unit 6 (77 megawatts) and Unit 7 (77 megawatts) will remain online.

“I think it’s huge,” said board member Jill Gaebler, “I think this means that we’ll move forward to de-invest in Drake. We’ll be closing Drake 5 by the end of 2017, and I think (complete closure) will happen a lot sooner than 2035.”

Was the Board’s action, as Tom Strand contends, a real stake in the ground or a symbolic nothing-burger? We’ll see — but recall Gen. William Palmer’s 1871 stake in the ground, driven at what is now the southeast corner of Pikes Peak and Cascade. Nineteen years later, a city of 11,140 souls had risen from the unpopulates plain east of Monument Creek.

Now that’s a stake!!

4 COMMENTS

  1. Tom Binnings

    In a rather unusual stellar alignment, as I read this article the news on CCTV in China was about how the Beijing government is shutting down it’s coal fired plant this year and plans to close THREE more coal fired plants in the next two years. Imagine that, China might beat Colorado Springs in converting from coal to natural gas and renewables. Still it is a stake in the ground. Now CSU should start planning around that and see if we can beat Beijing in the coming 10 to 15 years.

  2. Richard D. Wehner

    Considering that the need for reliable, competitively priced electric service is a critical and constant need – the need to ‘send a message’ to the national business community on the ‘stability’ of local energy management is equally critical.

    Therefore, it seems somewhat strange that the two statements below reflect reality and that they even need to be asked sends what kind of message?

    1) “Or did Council, acting as the Utility Board, simply adopt a feel-good statement of intent?”

    2) “Absent concrete steps toward decommissioning, the board’s action will neither bind nor affect decisions made by future boards.”

    Considering that the need for stable energy policy direction given to CSU is critical, and that the make up of city council is neither constant nor long term, would the community be better served by an independent Board of Directors that has a level of membership consistency and duration that does not exist with a city council that has a rotating composition that changes each two years?

  3. Steve Shepard

    One can appreciate that a City has to think long term and since Drake is not a crisis there is probably no real need to rush into any solution. However, why would anyone want to look at this ugly thing for another fifteen years? When anyone drives into Colorado Springs from the airport or from South IH-25 Drake is the first thing they see. And it don’t make no good impression. At least put up a privacy fence and hide it.

  4. PETER MILLER

    I WOULD START DISCUSSIONS WITH THE EPA ON AN EARLIER CLOSING DATE FOR AN EXCHANGE TO REMOVE THE NEED TO INSTALL THE SCRUBBERS AND INVEST THE MONEY ON A NEW SOURCE OF POWER