Feb 19, 2021 | NEWS | By Lily Weaver | Photo by Anil Jergens
On June 26, 2020, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board (CSU) voted to close the Martin Drake Power Plant by 2023, 12 years earlier than they initially planned. The plant has been a prominent part of the city’s skyline for almost a century. Natural gas turbines will temporarily replace the coal-fired units at the Drake site to provide power until new transmission lines are built.
“This is a historic decision for the future of our utility and this city,” Jill Gaebler, chair of the CSU Board, said in a press release. Not only is the decision to close the plant historic, but it has been long awaited by different advocacy groups pushing towards the decarbonization of energy infrastructure.
According to environmental historian and Colorado College visiting professor Tyler Cornelius, the combination of public pressure and economic interests are the main reasons the plant is closing.
The price of coal has gradually gone up in the U.S. while the cost of renewable energy sources has gone down, so CSU is taking steps in alignment with its economic interests. Professor Cornelius also noted that Drake’s long-term value for CSU is its real estate. If they decommission the plant and replace it with subsidized renewals, they can sell the land the power plant was on, which is highly valuable for the utility.
The Drake plant is the symbol of coal for Colorado Springs, and although some members of the community may have trouble coming to terms with the fact that coal may be dying industry, continuing to invest in solar and wind power will create new jobs.
Despite the slow evolution of CSU when it comes to implementing renewable energy sources, the utility’s importance cannot be underestimated. For example, CSU has saved lives by providing power and energy throughout the below-freezing Colorado winters and will continue to do so in the future, just through different means. Professor Cornelius is hopeful that CSU will continue to evolve, especially with new CEO Aram Benyamin. Additionally, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has named renewable energy as an important part of his climate plan. As the climate crisis poses more of a threat with each passing day, all eyes are on the local and federal government to prioritize the transition to clean energy sources.