Septemer 9, 2022 | NEWS | By Eli Jaynes | Photo by Sienna Busby

The Martin Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs permanently shut down late last Wednesday. Drake provided power to the city for close to 100 years, after opening in 1925.

Back in June 2020, the Colorado Springs City Council, which also serves as the board of the municipally-owned Colorado Springs Utilities, voted to shut down the coal-fired plant by 2023. Originally slated to close in 2035, city council moved to close the plant 12 years ahead of schedule.

Drake has been a constant on the Colorado Springs skyline for close to a century, and in that time has drawn the attention of Colorado College students’ intent on shutting it down.

One of those students is Filip Carnogursky ’23, who began advocating for closing Drake during his first year.

Carnogursky joined the effort as a campaign organizer with the local chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, in 2019. As a first year, he said he attended city council meetings, and spoke one-on-one with members of the council to try to convince them to shutter the plant as soon as possible.

Carnogursky said his organization also sent out surveys to the CC community and city residents. He said the city created the surveys to get public input on the future of energy generation in Colorado Springs. He thinks CC students and their various connections in the community were responsible for filling out as many as one-third of these surveys, which he said had a significant effect.

“I can’t say the survey decided the retirement of the coal power plants,” he said, “but it weighed in the decision. They couldn’t base all of their decision on [the surveys], but it was significant because it’s a municipal company.”

Saigopal Rangaraj ’23 is another current student that was closely involved in advocating for the closure of Drake. He said he can’t say precisely how significant the surveys were to the eventual decision from city council, but he felt as though college students in the Springs made a considerable impact.

He said students from CC and UCCS wrote letters to city council and attended workshops and community meetings to make their voices heard. At one particular workshop, Rangaraj estimated that 20 percent of the people in attendance were college students. For him, it was heartening to see students making an impact in the community, even if they weren’t all originally from the area.

“For the longest time, there’s been that impression that college students are just here as transient visitors and they don’t contribute to the community,” Rangaraj said. “We were very much involved in shaping local politics and pushing different council members to vote against the continued presence of Martin Drake.”

Both Rangaraj and Carnogursky stressed how important it was that the community came together to close the plant. They both said it was not the work of a single person or group, but rather a process of engagement from multiple corners of the community.

Moving forward, the power plant will be broken down and removed over the next three to four years, according to a press release from Colorado Springs Utilities.

Rangaraj said the work is not finished, though, especially for the Mill Street neighborhood that sits in the shadow of the power plant. He said the pollution and haze from almost a century of coal-fired energy production has negatively impacted that community, and that it is an environmental justice issue that will persist long after the plant shuts down.

It remains to be seen what will come of the 40-acre piece of land that the plant currently sits on, though it is undoubtedly prime real estate. As CPR noted, it’s flanked by the brand-new Olympic museum, Weidner Field, and America the Beautiful Park. Rangaraj said that removing the towering smokestacks from downtown will bring a new feel to a portion of town that the city is actively trying to rejuvenate.

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