The Board of Directors for Colorado Springs Utilities recently took bold, decisive action: They agreed to shut down the Martin Drake Power Plant — in 2035.

Hardly a resounding victory for advocates of closing the downtown power plant, and not exactly a high-risk decision. Even the Chinese are closing coal-fired plants to fight air pollution from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

Proponents of closing the power plant seized the decision as good news — It’s a stake in the ground, a way to move forward. After all, the board didn’t rule out closing it before 2035 — so it could still happen earlier.

Let’s hope it happens in 10 years instead of 20. To do that,  Utilities needs to start planning now for the fuel sources that will provide one-third of the city’s power.

Given the recent regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency and the groundswell of opposition to the downtown power plant, the Utilities Board should consider the earlier time frame. It makes good economic, environmental and business sense — all those intangibles that the Utilities administration downplayed when urging the board to decide to keep Drake open indefinitely.

Having a major power plant on the borders of downtown stymies growth and development. That land has been eyed by organizations and developers — it’s prime real estate located close to Interstate 25 and the city’s business center.

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Environmental and business advocates have asked for the plant to be closed for years. Who knows what opportunities could develop if there were no monolithic plant spewing clouds into the sky in downtown?

It’s a stake in the ground, a way to move forward. 

Not only is Drake an eyesore, but Colorado Springs can no longer claim to have inexpensive electric rates because it’s burning a cheaper source of fuel — reports show that the Springs pays more for electricity than other similarly sized cities in Colorado and around the nation.

It’s time for Colorado Springs to embrace what other cities already have: alternative power in the form of natural gas, complemented by wind and solar. While the initial investment could be costly, removing the plant can only help the city’s economic development needs. Businesses considering a move to the Springs want a vibrant city center; families relocating here want clean air. No one favors a huge power plant on the edge of the business district.

It’s time to find a way forward to close the plant — and to work on finding sources of electricity that will be sustainable for the next 50 years. Coal is cheap, but the costs start to add up in other areas: health care, damage to the environment, pollution controls required to address continued environmental regulations. And it’s time to think about what will need to be done to the land underneath the 80-year-old power plant, rumored to be home to a landfill — and to take steps to mitigate any hazards.

CSU’s administration didn’t want to close the plant, but the board is elected by the people — and decided to put an end date on Drake’s power production. Let’s hope that it’s sooner than projected — and downtown can begin to develop a new plan for the acres where Drake is located.

3 COMMENTS

  1. The steam rising from the cooling towers is only wasting water. It’s the smoke stacks that are spewing pollution into the surrounding area including the Gold Camp Elementary and Cheyenne Mountain High School. The sulfur dioxide is especially harmful to children whose lungs are still forming and growing. When children run and play outside they inhale the pollutants from Drake deeper into their lungs. Who knows which child will be affected by Drake plume. It’s time to shutdown dirty old man Drake.

  2. You must now pick a side and accept the consequences.

    It’s an agonizing choice. Either way, the costs will be huge. Either way, you will be rolling the dice. Nothing in your experience prepares you for this moment.

    Choose wealth and you could stay, for a while, in your comfort zone, clinging to an old business model. Even in the three way vice it will remain viable for some time. Demand for your products will grow before it falls.

    While this goes on you could keep trying to rein back ambition on climate. Your industry, acting strategically together as a political brake, probably can hold out until 2°C becomes an impossibility of engineering and thermodynamics.

    But it can’t do that without being weighed in the balance, perhaps on your watch. Confidence would drip away. Talented young staff would drift away. Respectability, already tarnished, would drain away. Drip. Drift. Drain.

    Or you could choose value. You could accept squarely that your moment has come, that the days of yesterday’s business model are numbered, that the challenge now is to manage its decline and build alongside it a new business fit for today, albeit that this is harder for an oil and gas company than it is for a utility.

    You would be accused by some of tribal betrayal and commercial lunacy. You really would be lifting the lid on carbon risk. Your share price would suffer, at least in the short term.

    But you would be buying the chance to renew your business by design, not by default in response to shocks.

    There would be no need for a mask. The face could look the world in the eye and see itself reflected back.

    I do not know what the new business model looks like. You won’t begin to know yourselves until you accept that as an instrument of the common good the old one is already dead.

    But I do know what the world needs to see if it is to accept your company as part of the solution and no longer part of problem.

    Stop frustrating ambition.

    Talk to us about how you will play your part in a 2°C transition.

    Tell us the inspirational story of that transition, backed by your knowledge and experience. The electrification of vehicles and heating; the decarbonization of electricity; new frontiers in efficiency. A new golden age of energy.

    And don’t tell us through crocodile tears that this will all take a long time. Tell us what you will do to hasten it, and what you need from government to do it faster.

    Come clean on your 2°C carbon risk, and get out of investments that would increase it.

    Stop pretending that gas is part of the answer to climate change, rather than a necessary stage in a transition to be kept as short as possible. Stop pretending that gas will always crowd out coal rather than renewables, that it won’t blur the political focus we need on efficiency.

    Urge your peers to turn their backs on new fracking around the world, as you wisely have in the UK. It’s a high carbon sugar rush and a recipe for political grief. Look at the news from Algeria.

    Stop grumbling about renewables. Unlock the opportunities they offer.

    Manage a retreat from the carbon frontiers, especially the Arctic. Keep it in the ground.

    It’s easier for an outsider to say what you should stop doing than what you should start. But the more you turn towards a 2°C world, the more you will see its opportunities.

    I am urging you to sail into a storm. But you are at your best in storms and the one that will hit you anyway if you delay will be more lethal.

  3. Contrary to this editorial, our electric rates are very competitive when compared to other utilities in the state. Furthermore in 2016, typical four service commercial and industrial utility bills will decrease if approved by City Council this month. Click here (https://www.csu.org/CSUImages/camu2015.jpg) to see a recent comparison made by the Colorado Association of Municipal Utilities. By keeping our rates affordable for all our customers, both residential and commercial, we support the economic growth and development of our city.

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