by Pam Zubeck
After 90 minutes of haggling, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board failed to take a vote on speeding up a study about decommissioning the downtown coal-fired Drake Power Plant — a topic featured in a news story in this week's Indy.
But the board did come to consensus that Councilor Lisa Czelatdko would chair a task force, with Councilor Brandy Williams as vice-chair, that would shape the scope of such a study. Who will serve on the task force isn't known, but Councilor Merv Bennett suggested it consist of representatives from the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC, the Downtown Partnership and the Regional Leadership Forum. All those business groups are made up of people who have expressed support for removing the power plant to make way for lower downtown development, notably for a baseball stadium.
However, Czelatdko said after the meeting she will widen membership to include representatives of local manufacturers, ratepayers and others. She and Williams are to report to the council at next month's Utilities Board meeting about exactly what the study will cover, how long it will take and what window for decommissioning will be studied.
The big question I wondered about the leadership of the task force is, what will happen if Czelatdko and Williams are defeated in the April city election. It's doubtful the Drake study could be completed before the election, and rumors are rampant that Mayor Steve Bach and his political allies are choosing a slate to install their preferences on Council.
Czelatdko would not be Bach's choice, because she's repeatedly challenged the mayor on different topics. Williams, though, has voted in line most of the time with Bach's agenda.
Anyway, during the meeting, there was no shortage of snide remarks back and forth among councilors and even with speakers.
When a spokesman for the Sierra Club urged a quick removal of Drake, Councilor Bernie Herpin accused the environmental group of strong arm tactics, noting it has given the city a notice it will sue alleging modifications have been made to both Drake and Nixon Power Plant south of the city without proper permits. Herpin dismissed the allegation, saying, "You go in and try to bully Utilities hoping they will close the power plants, raising suspected violations that haven't been proven."
And Board Chairman Scott Hente told the Sierra Club spokesman that customers have voted repeatedly with their pocketbooks by not signing up for alternative fuels, such as wind, which costs considerably more than power from coal-fired Drake.
Councilor Jan Martin noted that the Drake study will not deal with whether or not to continue installing the Neumann Systems Group pollution control technology. "That decision has been made," she said. The technology will cost the city a third less than comparable technology that's required for the city to meet EPA emissions standards that kick in in 2017.
But Councilor Angela Dougan says doing a study of Drake without being able to decide on that component makes no sense. She also protested that the discussion item was placed on today's board agenda without any back-up materials. She turned down an opportunity to be vice-chair of the task force, saying she didn't want to be associated with the effort.
Earlier in the meeting, the board heard a report on how a study will be done about selling the electric utility from Terri Carver, a member of the Utility Policy Advisory Committee who teaches environmental law and policy at the University of Denver.
UPAC has been asked to undertake the study, to be completed by May. The study, which will require the hiring of a financial analyst, will explore the financial implications of selling or leasing the electric utility generation assets, including power plants and hydro plants, she said.
Councilors, though, advised Carver to widen the study to include all city electric assets, including transmission and distribution.
At one point, Herpin suggested the city simply obtain information from developer Steve Schuck, an enthusiastic Bach supporter who has called a private meeting of influence brokers tomorrow to discuss how to place a value on the electric utility.
"I can't see a citizen committee doing a truly in-depth analysis," Herpin said, obviously peeved by Schuck's maneuver.
Just as the board was about to go into an executive session, Gazette reporter Daniel Chacon went to the microphone and protested the closed session, arguing that the agenda containing the executive session item was posted at roughly 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Colorado Open Meetings Act requires agendas to be posted 24 hours in advance.
City Attorney Chris Melcher said the notice satisfied the law, because the executive session was to take place more than 24 hours after the meeting notice was posted.