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.
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.