Colorado Springs City Council, acting as the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, approved at its June 17 meeting a new energy vision that will serve as the guiding principle for planning for the city’s future needs.

The energy vision states that the utility will “provide resilient, reliable and cost-effective energy that is environmentally sustainable, reduces our carbon footprint and uses proven state-of-the-art technologies to enhance our quality of life for generations to come.”

Phil Tunnah, CSU systems planning and projects division chief officer, said in a news release that “this Energy Vision formalizes our path as we work on our Electric and Natural Gas Integrated Resource Plans to stay true to our mission of providing safe, reliable and cost-effective energy for our customers today and generations to come.”

Springs Utilities already has reduced carbon emissions from 2005 levels and will continue to do so by furthering the shift to renewable energy, adding a 25-megawatt battery storage system and decommissioning the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant.

The goal, said Cindy Newsome, general manager of public affairs, is to increase Springs Utilities’ solar energy output from 19 megawatts to 264 megawatts.

“We are incorporating a lot more renewables in our system,” Newsome said. “The battery storage system will be the largest in Colorado.”

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“We recognize that the state has these carbon reduction goals,” said Amy Trinidad, CSU senior public affairs specialist. “But a lot of the language in the energy vision was put in before the governor signed the legislation, because that was the will of our customers.”

As the state works through the rules being made in conjunction with Polis’ energy roadmap, “although it’s too early to tell how our operations will be impacted, we will be part of the process of rulemaking.”

STRATEGIC PILLARS

Many business and residential customers participated in development of the energy vision during a process that started last summer.

The utility’s policy advisory committee hosted numerous surveys, meetings and open houses and used multiple channels to communicate with customers, Trinidad said.

The energy vision is supported by four strategic pillars:

1. Economic: Cost effective and equitable initiatives that drive a strong economy

2. Environment: Sustainable solutions that complement natural resources

3. Resiliency: Reliably withstand and recover from disturbances in a dynamic environment

4. Innovation: Proactively and responsibly evolve in a transforming landscape.

The utility had many discussions with business owners that aligned around the first two pillars.

“As a community-owned utility, our goal is to make our business customers more successful,” Newsome said. “For most of them, that means that they need reliable, cost-effective and safe energy to power their businesses. We heard that loud and clear from our customers.

“Then [we heard] the environmental perspective — one aligning with their corporate values, within the confines of safe, reliable and competitively priced but also sustainable business practices, and creating a community in which both their workforce and the company itself desires to be.”

Today’s workforce is looking for a progressive community that stands for the future, Newsome said.

“One of the things we’re seeing more and more is that more often, people are choosing the community they want to live in rather than their mobility being driven by a specific job opportunity,” Newsome said. “That’s where environmental stewardship and alignment with personal values can ultimately impact a business’ success as well.”

The resiliency piece is especially important for the utility’s military customers, Newsome said.

“As we plan for the future of our community and the future of our utility, we have to ensure that we make our power grid smarter and stronger,” she said. “That’s certainly an important component that we’ll be looking at.”

Goals and metrics for each of these pillars will be formalized during development of the electric and gas integrated resource plans, which has commenced under the guidance of the policy advisory committee.

The 2020 integrated resource plans will then become the roadmap for meeting Colorado Springs’ energy needs for the next 30 years.

Business and residential input will continue as the utility develops the specifics for each of the four pillars.

“There will be more intense engagement with the business community for the integrated resource process,” Trinidad said.

MARTIN DRAKE PLAN

The Martin Drake Power Plant is one component of the energy vision and future, Newsome said.

“It will be evaluated as part of the integrated resource process, along with many other components of our energy future,” she said. “As far as the date for decommissioning, that is what the IRP process will determine, to ensure that we balance those rates, reliability and relationships with our customers, and that we plan for the future of our community.”

The full IRP process will look at multiple scenarios “so that we make the best decision for our community and our ratepayers,” she said.

The 185-megawatt, coal-fired plant provides about a quarter of the community’s power year-round, according to CSU’s website.

The utilities board voted in 2015 to decommission the plant no later than 2035. The smallest and oldest of the plant’s then-operating units — Unit 5 — was retired in 2016.

The utilities board revisited the decommissioning question in 2017, and an extensive study was conducted to evaluate earlier closure options and replacement generation locations.

As a result of that evaluation, the utility undertook essential projects that would allow for several closure options while it continued to provide safe and reliable power for customers.

The utility has estimated that the soonest these projects could be completed is the end of 2023.

Martin Drake “meets current emissions standards,” Trinidad said. “Being a municipal utility, we are directed to meet certain environmental standards by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. That’s not going to change.”

IRP PROCESS

Among many other things, the future of the Martin Drake plant and the location of replacement generation will be determined through the IRP process.

The process will be similar to the vision process, with a variety of opportunities for engagement between July 3 and its culmination in the third quarter of 2020, when the integrated resource plans will be submitted to the utility board.

“We will have survey opportunities, general feedback and input as well as open houses and public forums for both residential and business customers to provide their input,” Newsome said.

Utilities customers are invited to participate in the IRP process and help shape the future of energy in Colorado Springs.

“Our customers and their input are valuable to us,” Newsome said. “As we look at the energy vision and our energy future, we will still do everything in our power to make sure that our businesses are successful and that we align with our community’s business goals in terms of reliability, safety and sustainability.”

More information is available online at csu.org/energyvision.