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Coal operation ends at Drake Power Plant

The lights in Colorado Springs didn’t flicker, and there was not a sudden disappearance of thick black smoke from the columns that rise above the Drake Power Plant downtown, but Friday marked the end of an era at the nearly 100-year old facility downtown.

At 11:04am, the final load of coal traveled down the conveyor belts into the furnace.

Yes, Drake is considered by most nowadays to be an eyesore, a relic from a different time when people had different priorities, but it did provide decades of service to the city of Colorado Springs, providing both jobs and reliable energy.

It was 1925 when the plant first opened on Conejos Street downtown, named after longtime city councilman Martin Drake, who was also a strong supporter of city-owned utilities.

At that time, coal was the modern and preferred fuel to generate power, and few were concerned about greenhouse gases, or what development could have occupied the property instead.

Just a few years ago, the plan was to close Drake sometime after 2030, despite public demand to shut down coal operations as well as the desire among city leaders to clear the space for more modern development.

In the end however, it wasn’t public outcry nor future projects that drove the decision to end coal burning.

The biggest driving force was the fact that coal is no longer the most economical option.

Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair Wayne Williams explained, “The price of generating coal became more expensive than we could actually buy power on the spot market, so that didn’t make sense to continue to generate coal at an economic loss.”

“I know there’s some people that think ‘Oh, they bowed to the environmentalists,’” added Mayor John Suthers.  “No, I think what really accelerated this was obviously taking those things into consideration, making sure we had stable power, but just pure economics.

With an output of 225 megawatts, Drake was a powerhouse.

However, CSU made it clear that its other plants fueled by natural gas, along with a growing amount of power from solar and wind, will have no problem filling the void, and the transition will be seamless to its customers.

As of 2020, coal made up 32% of CSU’s power generation.

49% was generated from natural gas, and 17% came from hydro, wind, and solar.

Click here to see CSU’s goal for 2030.

There’s no question this is a step forward for CSU, for the city, and for the environment, but for the 40 or so workers that have spent years or decades running the plant, moving forward isn’t as easy.

“It’s very emotional, says Drake Manager Somer Mese, “we’ve all been saying it’s like a death in the family.”

“I get where we need to go, I see the advancement in technology, I understand that this is old, and being in a metropolitan area, and being one of the last ones.  I understand that.  Being in this industry as long as I have, it’s hard.  You grow up with it.  It’s a sentimental attachment.  So it’s a big change for everyone,” she said.

According to CSU, all but one of those workers already have new positions elsewhere within the utility.

It’s also important to note that Drake as a whole isn’t closing… yet.

Six brand new natural gas-powered generators will operate inside Drake for a few years before the generators are relocated to a location near the airport.

At that time, what remains of Drake can be taken down.

As for the future of the property, Suthers foresees everything from living space to park space, and even a kayaking park where Monument and Fountain Creek come together.

He admitted, however, that he will likely not be in the political picture by
the time those decision have to be made.

Bart Bedsole

Bart is the evening anchor for KRDO. Learn more about Bart here.

Comments

25 Comments

  1. Cheaper to buy It one the open market – riiiggghhht. Right up until there’s a shortage, kinda like the natural gas shortage this winter we’ll all be paying for on our bills for years. Make no mistake about it, your bill WILL go up at some point because of closing Drake. But of course some developer will get some deal and tax breaks to develop the land and reap huge profits, so it’s all OK.

  2. Columns of thick black smoke above Drake power plant? I never saw columns of thick black smoke above Drake power plant, so that’s a lie.
    Drake power plant utilized modern scrubbing technologies that produced very little pollution from burning coal.
    What this truly marks is a shift from coal a natural resource that America has A ENORMOUS supply of and it is cheap.
    This is really a propaganda piece to sell people the idea that what will be much more expensive fuels and other unproven reliable sources are necessary to save the planet from man-made global warming.
    Utility prices are going to sore as has housing, food, gas and inflation of most everything in general. Colorado Springs has become the city of no hope for many and that number will be increasing over the years for many more.
    The only vision here is from those who will profit from the shift to so-called green energy sources and those who are paid to make sure this shift occurs.
    Glad my home is paid off for so I am free to get the heII out of this city that has been mismanaged for years it is only getting worse.

    1. I was thinking the same thing about the clouds of black smoke. Only white columns of water vapor.
      But I gather you don’t care about global warming? Past disregard for the environment comes at a cost, and we’re already paying for the lack of knowledge of our ancestors. Let’s not leave a similar legacy for our children and grandchildren.

      1. But of course, without our ancestors’ use of coal, we couldn’t have had the industrial resolution, and we wouldn’t need the electricity to run our televisions, computers, appliances, or other luxuries of today’s society. And we wouldn’t have cars. So the big question is whether the price we’re now paying was worth it?

      2. So you sound like you know that due to modern scrubbing technology being used to clean up the byproduct of coal burning that mostly only water vapor is released. I agree therefore with the abundance of coal in America there should not be a rushed to get away from it until more proven and cheaper technologies are developed to replace it.
        The rush to close the Drake power plant is to benefit those corporations, their sychophants and oligarchs who will profit greatly from it, not we the people who will be paying through the nose for it.

        1. I agree. But I was under the impression that this really was primarily an economic decision. They’re saying that converting the plant to run on natural gas will be a more economic option, so it’s hard to know what to believe. But I’m also skeptical about possible underlying reasons for things that don’t seem 100% obvious to me, especially give this city’s track record for spending on what I consider to be worthless “enhancements.”

      1. No, that is not true your mom and sister both began to cry hysterically when I told them that I cannot wait to leave Colorado Springs.
        Now run along little psycho troll, run along.

  3. Remember those surprise billing increases last year? Get used to them, as every other source of energy is more expensive than coal.

    As for the Drake plant itself, you should plan for your mayor and city council to start siphoning funds meant for roads and public safety to make the site “developer friendly”. Oh and expect to see a half $billion cost estimate to clean up the site.

      1. The article is using 2019 natural gas pricing. Pricing in 2021 is drastically higher due to Biden cutting domestic production. Your point would be valid if we continued domestic production like we had under the previous administration.

        1. Domestic production was cut in 2020 due to a decline in demand. Increased demand was why production was increased over the years since 2006. It actually has little to do with who’s in the White House or who controls Congress, if you look at all the numbers.

  4. Lived here for over 50 years and never saw black smoke from them stacks, but what we do know for sure is……inflation is at its highest level in 30 years, 13 service members dead (largest single day loss), crisis in the Middle East, crisis at the southern border, COVID out of control due to the previous, gas prices 60% higher than December 2020, consumer spending sharply down…and now unemployment is up………we can thank the Big Guy and our clown of a governor

    1. Once again, your standard post that has nothing to do with the story.
      Your ignorance is showing.

  5. RealityCheck says he/she/it/them/they/her will subsidize our higher energy bills. Thanks, realitycheck! You’re a true socialist team player!!!

  6. Electricity pricing will go up. CSU will have a rate increase due to this change. Instead of coal being brought in on trains it will be natural gas. There is not a large enough line to Martin Drake to accommodate the natural gas combustion turbines they are changing to. The new natural gas plant they have at Ray Nixon is only used in high usage time due to natural gas cost.

  7. I don’t know what made Bart think he could get away with the big lie about huge black plumes of smoke coming from the Drake power plant, that’s a blatant lie and he’s got to know better. Maybe he didn’t even write the article just put his name to it.
    Anyway all he basically did was produce propaganda to promote the man-made climate change hoax I’ll never trust this guy.

    1. Agreed. The whole article is more of a historical overview, and there probably were huge black plumes when the plant was first opened. But to imply that they were still being produced just before closure is nothing short of irresponsible.

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