Utilities board makes cautious play on EIRP


At Wednesday's Colorado Springs Utilities board meeting, the board (City Council), over the course of nearly three hours of strained debate, managed to make most of a ruling on the city's energy future via the most recent Electric Integrated Resource Plan

CSU's EIRP project managers had already indicated in last month's meeting that they would put portfolio option D before the board, an option narrowed down from 85 initial proposals, and for the most part supported by its Customer Advisory Group (CAG). 

However, local environmental activists and voices for the business community, specifically the Downtown Partnership, were urging the board to go with portfolio H, which looks much like D, but placed a firm timeline on the Martin Drake Power Plant's decommissioning by the year 2029. 

What ultimately shook out was a plan some began referring to as "D+" on account of it basically being option D, with a 2-percent cost cap still in place, but with a firm date to shut Drake down entirely, no later than 2035. Also, the demand-side management (DSM), which equates to conservation efforts and incentivizing, bumped up from 10 to 12 percent. 

A motion was made to table the discussion until next month's meeting on the more immediate future of unit 5 at Drake specifically, which the advisory committee was recommending be decommissioned by no later than Dec. 31, 2017. The alternative would be investing money to convert unit 5 to natural gas, also requiring expensive upkeep. 

Coal plants have been decommissioned elsewhere and left to ruin or be re-purposed. At some point, as late as 20 years from now, we'll be asking ourselves what Drake's remains or real estate shall become. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Coal plants have been decommissioned elsewhere and left to ruin or be re-purposed. At some point, as late as 20 years from now, we'll be asking ourselves what Drake's remains or real estate shall become.
Of the several stakeholders I've spoken to since the meeting, none have expressed concerns that the board won't vote with the CSU project mangers to bring unit 5 down in the next couple years. Council Member Don Knight was the main voice asking for more time to weigh the alternatives (again), and fellow councilors appeared to be obliging him, fairly confident that they'd win the majority yes vote next month. 

The surprise came, they say, when Keith King, out of left field, proposed the increase in DSM to 12 percent. 

"It was actually quite spectacular," says citizen activist and pro-H advocate Lee Milner, "because nobody was lobbying for it. All of us, would of course want that, but it wasn't anything we had made an issue over, so to have Mr. King make a strong message for it was thrilling." 

CAG member Rolf Jacobson, a local business consultant, says "that's not something I even though was possible, it was completely off the radar." Still, he's pleased and calls King's move "very forward looking." He also believes that increased DSM is one step that will help push forward the phasing out of Drake units 6 and 7 well ahead of the new 2035 deadline. "Every electron you don't make is cheaper than a coal-fired electron," he says. 

Regarding the setting of a firm date for decommission, both Milner and Jacobson are pleased, and it at least answered the request of others seeking Drake's demise. During the time for citizen comment yesterday, Nor'wood's Chris Jenkins and Murphy Constructors' Chuck Murphy both spoke out for a more timely closure of Drake, making respective cases for business and economic development as well as aesthetic concerns. Murphy called Drake a "god awful" eyesore for a community that prides itself on so much surrounding natural beauty. 

Downtown Partnership president Susan Edmondson also spoke for business interests, saying that routinely when she's meeting with outside interests looking to invest in our community, they ask about Drake and its future. Not being able to give an answer up to this point, she feared, showed a lack of our vision. Again, her organization had come down in favor of H because of the 2029 decommission deadline. 

Though pleased to have a date decided upon, Milner calls the extra tack-on of six years, to 2035, a bit "disconcerting." And Jacobson goes a step further, calling it "arbitrary," and lacking any evidence to support it, "instead of going with the recommendations that we already had in place [with portfolio H]." But he concludes on a positive note, saying although it's not the plan he'd have chose, "It's a position we can all get behind, and I'm impressed with our leaders."  

CSU sent out a meeting summary this morning, here it is in full: 

The Utilities Board discussed the Citizens Advisory Group (CAG)- and staff-recommended Portfolio D, and Portfolio H. The Board considered the timing of a decision considering the impact of developing Clean Power Plan regulations, the in-progress Demand Side Management (DSM) Potential Study, the impact on rates with the top portfolios, operational considerations and a summary of feedback received during the open comment period. The Utilities Board voted to approve Energy Portfolio D, amended to include a Drake (units 5, 6 and 7) closure date no later than 2035, and to increase the DSM goal to 12 percent, with a 2 percent rate cap. The Board tabled a decision on Drake Unit 5 options until the December Board meeting. The full Electric Integrated Resource Plan (EIRP) is expected to be finalized in first quarter of 2016.

The EIRP is a long-term strategic plan used to guide resource acquisition, conservation and demand side management decisions to meet customer electric demand over a 20-year horizon. The EIRP is required by the Western Area Power Administration to be updated every five years in order to qualify for federal hydro power.

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