If the Board of the Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) doesn’t even know the per-kilowatt-hour cost for the municipal utility’s Martin Drake Power Plant – the power plant it is charged with overseeing – then the Board has no business making financial decisions that will dramatically impact the lives of every CSU ratepayer.
Yet, that’s exactly what the Colorado Springs Gazette reported following a public town hall meeting over whether or not the Board should shut down the 185 megawatt coal-fired power plant a decade ahead of schedule. Reporter Conrad Swanson noted in the second to last paragraph of his story, “None of the board members present Tuesday evening knew the per-kilowatt-hour cost for Drake’s two units.”
That’s like owning a trucking company and not knowing the cost of a gallon of gasoline while deciding whether or not to replace your fleet. No one in their right mind would make that decision without having those numbers.
CSU is a municipal utility with an obligation to Colorado Springs ratepayers and taxpayers, who will have to pay the bill. At the bare minimum, it should have made available last night the exact costs associated with Drake’s current per-kilowatt-hour to compare with the cost of early retirement of Drake, reclamation of the site, replacement generation, and transmission. Without that basic information, there is no way for customers and the Board to make an informed decision.
In 2015, the Board voted to shut down the plant by 2035, but now its determined to make a decision about Drake’s premature retirement (by 2025 versus 2035) as early as December 18.
According to the CSU Web site, “due to evolving community perspectives, we are currently studying earlier alternatives to the current date, including replacement generation scenarios.” Translation: the environmental left’s left war on coal has come to Colorado Springs. These groups and their activists are pressuring CSU to shut down its coal plants a decade early as the Denver Post recently reported, “Environmental groups led by the Sierra Club welcomed the prospect of swifter removal of the 80-year-old Martin Drake Power Plant, following closures of coal-fired facilities in Boulder, Atlanta, Chicago and Denver.”
There’s another group that wants early retirement. The economic development crowd who see the site as a “gold mine” because of its centralized location in downtown Colorado Springs.
We’ve seen what happens with rushed decisions that appease the environmental left when the state’s largest monopoly utility Xcel Energy and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission expedited time lines with Rush Creek and Clean Air Clean Jobs, In both cases, ratepayers are on the hook for billions of dollars unnecessarily. Both were rammed through before anyone had an opportunity to thoroughly vet the projects and estimated costs.
A multi-million dollar decision to prematurely retire a power plant asset like Martin Drake is not a time for dreaming as Board member Richard Skorman, who favors early closure, suggested in a November Gazette article, “I’m convinced – and maybe I’m just a dreamer – that this is going to save ratepayers in the long run.” To force millions of dollars of added costs onto ratepayers, the numbers should be compelling to everyone – not just a dreamer.
The CSU Board would do itself and ratepayers a favor with transparency and thoughtful deliberation on the true costs rather than capitulation to special interest groups.