- File photo
With three new board members following the April election, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, made up of members of City Council, had enough votes to push for an earlier closure of the Martin Drake power plant than 2035.
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The process began almost immediately, with the board asking staff to look into ways to replace the power from Drake, and how early the plant could feasibly close. Staff found that both 2025 and 2030 closure dates were possible — though initial cost estimates varied widely — and came up with the following plans to replace the power, starting with scenarios that would have offered new generation at Drake:
- Scenario 1: A new natural gas plant to be built at the Drake site. Would be about half the height of current towers and have a smaller physical footprint. And/or: Build additional generation at Birdsall power plant off North Nevada Avenue, which is currently only used when demand surges.
- Scenario 3A: Some new generation at Drake and/or Birdsall; some imported and/or generated outside the service territory.
- Scenario 3B: Drake and/or Birdsall keep running, supplemented by distributed generation (likely small, high-efficiency natural gas generators).
- Scenario 2A: A new natural gas plant built outside the city. Location TBD.
- Scenario 2B: Import energy from a regional transmission organization (RTO) — an independent entity, sort of like a cooperative, that provides transmission on a multi-state power grid.
- Scenario 3C: Distributed generation (whether natural gas, solar or some combination), plus imported energy from an RTO. Decommission Birdsall too, upping replacement needs to 192 megawatts.
On Dec. 18, the board declined to choose a closure date, but did unanimously select a path forward (with director Bill Murray absent), picking the staff-recommended Scenario 3C, which is projected to add roughly $4.08 to the typical monthly residential electric bill. The choice means that Utilities must replace 192 megawatts of needed energy from Drake and Birdsall power plants. The board decided that power won't be generated at either site after the plants close. That means, at the very least Utilities will need to build a 6-mile, $26 million transmission line connecting substations to keep the lights on downtown.
Joining an RTO would potentially enable Utilities to buy energy in the open marketplace for less money, since members agree to share transmission costs. It would also provide greater access to renewable sources throughout the state.
Discussions are underway to join the Mountain West Transmission Group sometime in 2019. That group could later join up with an even bigger group.