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Martin Drake: A look at the Springs’ least popular power plant

Coal for Christmas


Martin Drake Power Plant by the numbers. - COMPILED BY NAT STEIN  |  DESIGNED BY DUSTIN GLATZ
  • Compiled by Nat Stein | Designed by Dustin Glatz
  • Martin Drake Power Plant by the numbers.

Back in 2015, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, which is made up of City Council members, decided to close Martin Drake, the 200 megawatt coal-fired power plant located downtown, "no later than 2035." (Disregarding their own staff's recommendation of 2029.) Then, this year's municipal elections brought in new board members, particularly Council President Richard Skorman of District 3, who expressed interest in accelerating the shutdown. Utilities staff reran its models with updated demand expectations and commodities forecasts and found that 2025 is the earliest feasible closure date. (Had the board selected 2029 back in 2015, by the way, we wouldn't necessarily be any closer to decommissioning than we are now, since preparation wouldn't have begun yet.)

Utilities staff presented the board with three paths for life after Drake, whenever that begins. (See: "One decision, more to come.") After months of deliberation, featuring, by all accounts, more public input than ever before, the board made a decision... to keep the "no later than 2035" deadline in place for now.

The problem? Too many unknowns.

At the Dec. 18 meeting, the board did, however, demonstrate desire to decommission sooner than 2035, if/when it's practically and fiscally prudent, and they took some initial steps to make it happen.

Per their staff's recommendation, the board agreed to accelerate construction of a new transmission line that's necessary to keep the grid functioning sans Drake. Utilities will hire a consultant to get that done by 2023.

The board also voted for a more thorough assessment of the Drake site, including an environmental study and land appraisal, to get a clear picture of the property in question. The results will likely be of interest both to environmentalists concerned about contamination from nearly a century of coal burning and local developers interested in what the property could become.

The board also voted to say that when Drake retires, at the still unknown date, it will be replaced through a combination of smaller generators and imported energy. The specifics of that haven't been decided yet.

"We're not punting," said board chair Tom Strand, "We are, in fact, waiting for more information to make us better decision-makers."

To that end, more data is expected to come from the next Electric Integrated Resource Plan process in 2020.

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