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!!