Colorado Springs Utilities Board gives equal power to cost and environment


The 220,000-panel Palmer Solar project, which recently came online, provides about 60 megawatts of energy to Colorado Springs Utilities customers. - COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Colorado Springs Utilities
  • The 220,000-panel Palmer Solar project, which recently came online, provides about 60 megawatts of energy to Colorado Springs Utilities customers.

A seemingly minor vote taken at the April 22 Utilities Board meeting could potentially alter the future of energy in Colorado Springs. (Or, it could be a merely symbolic step meant to placate clean-air advocates.)

The Colorado Springs Utilities Board, comprised of City Council members, voted to tweak the recommended criteria for scoring energy portfolios.

Based on the results of a customer survey, the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee (UPAC) —  which makes recommendations to the Utilities Board regarding the Energy Integrated Resource Plan (EIRP) being developed for the next five years — had assigned weightings to several scoring criteria, which will be used to evaluate portfolio options for the EIRP.

UPAC has reviewed draft portfolio options that include various timelines for retiring the Drake and Nixon power plants and implementing new renewable and carbon-free energy. However, those finalized portfolios and the costs associated with each one haven't been presented to either UPAC or the Utilities Board.

For a breakdown of the draft portfolio options presented to UPAC earlier in April, read our past reporting.

In the evaluation process, each portfolio will be assigned a rating for the attributes of Reliability, Cost/Implementation, Environment/Stewardship, Flexibility/Diversity and Innovation. Those ratings will be multiplied by the attribute weightings to come up with an overall score for each portfolio.

In June, UPAC is likely to recommend a portfolio with a high score (and public support) for approval by the Utilities Board.

UPAC recommended these weightings for scoring portfolio options. - COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Colorado Springs Utilities
  • UPAC recommended these weightings for scoring portfolio options.

At the April 22 meeting, UPAC recommended the following attribute weightings to the Utilities Board for approval:

- Reliability: 32 percent
- Cost/Implementation: 24 percent
- Environment/Stewardship: 22 percent
- Flexibility/Diversity: 14 percent
- Innovation: 8 percent

But after a public comment section in which around two dozen people participated and many lamented that the city's coal-fired plants put the public health at risk by polluting the air, board member Bill Murray proposed a change.

"I would like to bring the cost of implementation down to 22, equal environmental stewardship, and bring innovation up another 2 percent to 10 percent," Murray said. "...My argument, very simply, is we can do better, and therefore we should."

The motion to amend the portfolio attribute weightings to equalize cost and environment eventually passed on a 5-4 vote, with board members Don Knight, David Geislinger, Andy Pico and Wayne Williams in the minority.

Geislinger later voted to approve the amended weightings, while Knight, Pico and Williams remained opposed.

Board member Tom Strand said he voted for the change based on public perception.

"I just want to see that both cost and environment, the optics of those to the community, look like we placed equal weight on both," he said, adding later that the current coronavirus pandemic also supported adding weight to the "innovation" attribute.

Meanwhile, Pico pointed out that transportation was a bigger contributor to air pollution than the public utility before voting against the change.

"The actual mix of generation capacities isn't what's on the agenda today," he added. "What we have here today is just the recommended attributes and weighting."

A public survey, open through May 3, will help UPAC and the Utilities Board determine which portfolio to choose. You can also register to provide input at a telephone town hall, scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 14.

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