by Pam Zubeck
Some time back, Mayor Steve Bach proclaimed that he'd never mentioned wanting a sports stadium in the lower downtown area.
The Gazette rightfully called him out on that, listing five instances where Bach, in fact, said he was interested in a stadium being located downtown. (Incidentally, the reporter who did that, Daniel Chacon, was reassigned last week.)
Now, Bach is saying that his feelings toward Colorado Springs Utilities have been unfairly characterized. During a chat with KVOR's Richard Randall last Thursday afternoon, Bach made the following statement when Randall brought up the Martin Drake Task Force, which has been asked to study the possible decommission of the Drake power plant (which sits in the same neighborhood, if not on the same actual ground, as the potential baseball stadium):
First I want to absolutely clear up a falsehood that’s out there by some in the print media. I am not interested in decommissioning Martin Drake. That is not on my radar screen. OK? And I’m also not even thinking about selling Utilities. That is being trumped up by some folks who cannot win on the business case and have to attack me personally. My interest in Colorado Springs Utilities is simply three things. One, that we continue to provide reliable, high quality utilities at the lowest possible cost, and I’m not sure we are. And secondly, that we use ratepayer money wisely, and I’m not sure we are. And lastly, that we maintain sound business practices, and I’m not sure we are.
Again surprised by Bach's statements, we took a look back. In a June 5 letter to City Council posted on Bach's own website, the decommissioning idea appeared to be on his radar screen:
Thank you for committing as the Board of CSU to push forward with a study of the possibility of moving or decommissioning the Drake Power Plant. ...
May I suggest that the study consider not only the costs of moving or decommissioning Drake, and the possible impacts on electric rates, but also balance the analysis by adding in the tremendous potential for vibrant new economic development Downtown, and the new jobs, new housing, and new tax revenues that would go along with that, as well as the many benefits of a more environmentally friendly power supply.
We also noted that Bach had acknowledged having met with Xcel Energy earlier in the year, and that some big financial players had taken notice.
And then there's the fact that Bach's former boss, developer Steve Schuck, had orchestrated discussion of the idea of selling off Utilities' power division, with Bach in attendance. Schuck hosted a meeting at Penrose Library in September to discuss it. A private meeting, that is, as we reported beforehand and at the time.
Now here's something new: During that meeting, Bach apparently expressed support for the decommissioning idea, and when someone noted that a sale could push electric rates up by 30 percent to 40 percent, the mayor said that was of no consequence. At least that's the story from Steve Durham, who last week was appointed to the Drake task force.
Bach opposed Durham's appointment, saying he had a conflict of interest because he, Durham, had represented the coal industry in 2010. In response, Durham wrote to Bach on Jan. 7, in which he mentions a meeting in which a sale was discussed:
As I noted on both my application and the follow-up questionnaire, I do have a bias toward affordable and reliable energy. I do not have enough information to judge the impact that decommissioning the Drake Plant would have on affordability and reliability, but I hope to learn.
I know from the meeting we attended this fall that you do not share my concern for affordable energy. You said “electric rates don’t matter.” I hope that this difference of opinion will not lead you to work against my appointment to the Drake Task Force.