Over the past nine months, Colorado College has been negotiating a contract with employees of Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) and City Council to build a two-megawatt solar farm. Two megawatts of solar power would offset about 35 percent of Colorado College’s total electrical usage. CC’s Board of Trustees had approved six million dollars for this project.
In order to build the solar array, three separate contracts were needed. The first was a contract outlining the costs of connecting the solar farm to the grid. The second was a contract negotiating the rate Colorado College would pay for the electricity. The third was a contract negotiating a lease to rent the land upon which the solar array would have been built.
CC was able to negotiate both the interconnection and rate pay contracts with CSU. After about seven months of negotiation, CC was offered a 20-year lease, revocable at any time. Given the six million dollar price tag of the PV panels alone, a revocable lease did not provide the security necessary for CC to ensure a return on this large investment.
Colorado Springs Utilities is unique in that it is a publicly owned utility. While most counties in Colorado contract their utilities out to private corporations, our energy supply is owned and managed by local government. Colorado Springs was allegedly unable to offer CC a more desirable land lease largely due to interpretations and consequences of the state-wide Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
This conservative bill, also known as TABOR, limits government spending and tax rates by tying them to inflation rates and population changes. This bill also suggests that the government does not enter long-term contracts.
“I think what we need to do now is regroup,” says Mark Ferguson, Colorado College’s Campus Energy Manager. “We’ve got the rate, and we’ve got the interconnection negotiated. But we don’t necessarily have to rent from the city. Perhaps we could find a rancher willing to lease or sell us some land.”
Due to complications negotiating a long-term land lease, the CC Board of Trustees has now withdrawn the $6 million allocated for this project.
In the midst of conversations about whether or not Martin Drake, our downtown coal-powered plant, ought to be shut down, it seems that Colorado Springs Utilities is not actively seeking out energy alternatives.
Dave Padgett, CSU’s Chief Environment, Health and Safety Officer, said at the CCEESP panel on Monday night that he is “energy neutral,” meaning that he believes that Colorado Springs ought to maintain a balanced portfolio of many different energy sources.
Andy Pico, one of the nine elected city council members who set the policies of our city’s Utilities, said, “Renewables are not a reliable enough energy source to meet our base load energy needs.”
On Monday night, both Councilmembers Andy Pico and Val Snider emphasized that Colorado Springs is very fortunate to have a publicly owned utilities company that represents the opinions of the public. Yet Val Snider declared that Martin Drake ought to be kept open until it is no longer financially beneficial to do so, in order to generate the maximum possible return on the city’s investment.
With more and more research coming out on the health effects of the life cycle of coal, it is becoming ever clearer that ratepayers spend more on coal than what they see on their electricity bill.
Based on a study by the New York Academy of Sciences, Colorado Springs residents likely pay three times their energy bill rate when considering the externalized costs of the coal lifecycle. These hidden costs include fatalities due to coal transport, emissions of air pollutants due to coal combustion, loss of productivity from mercury emissions, excess mental retardation cases from mercury emissions, and more – very real costs imposed upon the tax paying population.
Nonetheless, Padgett boasts that all of Colorado Spring’s energy plants comply with all health and safety standards, and always have. This begs the question of whether or not Colorado Springs Utilities should wait until it is forced to switch to safer, cleaner energy sources by the EPA, economic forces, or other regulatory agencies, or whether we, as community ought to take charge of our own energy future.
If you would like to inform Colorado Springs City Council members and Utilities CEO, Jerry Forte, about your opinion on the future of Martin Drake Power Plant, make your voice heard at the open forum on April 11.
For more information visit: https://www.csu.org/pages/workwithus.aspx