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Councilmember Snider responds to environmental questions about decommissioning of Drake Power Plant

       Editor's note: In an effort to understand the environmental aspects contributing to a potential decommissioning of the Drake Power Plant several years before it was previously anticipated, the Westside Pioneer contacted Val Snider, one of two councilmembers leading the Drake Task Force that has been studying the matter.
       The Pioneer provided Snider with several e-mailed questions. Snider replied by e-mail as follows:

       First, I want to stress that no decision has been made whether or not to retire Drake. The study contains alternatives that the Utilities Board may consider in its decision. Further, the study is not being received or considered by the Utilities Board in a vacuum. The issue being considered is when should the Drake Power Plant be retired? So the question on Drake will consider the findings of the study, the results of an ongoing study for the CSU Energy Vision (conducted by Utilities Policy Advisory Committee for the April 15 CSU Board meeting), a CSU Board briefing on the future of coal fired power plants (also for the April 15 CSU Board meeting) and public comment.
       In addition, The Utilities Policy Advisory Committee Energy Vision will advise the Board on target goals for various types of electrical generation in our supply portfolio. The subsequent updated Energy Vision approved by the Utilities Board, including the ultimate decision on Drake, then will be incorporated into our long range energy planning, referred to as the Electric Integrated Resource Plan or EIRP, which is reviewed every 2.5 years.
       So within that context, I have responded to your questions below:

       Pioneer question: If the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] mandates tighter pollution controls on existing coal-fired plants (as appears to be likely), how will that affect the alternatives the consultant presented -- will it make even earlier retirement more attractive for social/environmental reasons? Or would the task force want the consultant to restudy such new data and come back with revised alternatives?
       Snider response: It is impossible to say with certainty until a draft regulation is made available. The board will be receiving a presentation on expected federal regulations at our April meeting. Also, the carbon sensitivities in the HDR study omewhat proxy what the financial impacts might be, so I do not expect that the Board would want the consultant to restudy that new data. ["HDR" refers to HDR Enginering, selected by the city to perform an indepdendent study of decommissioning alternatives.] The board is not limited to the alternatives presented in the study, but will consider the study and the expected regulations together in deciding the way forward for Drake.

       Pioneer question: To follow up from that question, why is the task force even trying to determine a best alternative without that information in hand?
       Snider response: Neither the Drake Task Force nor the HDR study tried to determine a best alternative. As I stated above, the Board is not limited to the alternatives presented, but will use the study along with expected regulations, as well as the Energy Vision to determine the best path forward for our electrical supply portfolio.

       Pioneer question: What are the GHG [greenhouse gas] emission rates for Nixon and the other CSU plants? Is it known, or can it be reasonably predicted, whether new pollution controls might put any of them in potential non-compliance?
       Snider response: As a rule of thumb, coal-fired power plants, such as Drake and Nixon emit about one ton of carbon dioxide to produce one megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity. For comparison to the units on your billing statement, one MWh is 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. Gas-fired power plants, such as Front Range, emit about half this amount. Pollution controls, such as those being installed at Drake and Nixon, have very little impact on this emission rate and are unlikely to affect compliance with future greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations.

       Pioneer question: Can the task force say with confidence that without Drake in operation in the relatively near future, requiring CSU to buy additional power elsewhere, that the power it buys will be 1, available at all times; and 2, not a great deal more expensive?
       Snider response: As Drake supplies what is referred to as “base load,” meaning constantly reliable dispatchable generation, its replacement would have to be the same. The availability and cost of alternatives to Drake are addressed in the HDR study, and of course are key factors to consider in the near and mid-term retirement alternatives.
       For clarity, the Task Force's job was to advise the study and is now complete. The decision now rests on the Utilities Board.

       Pioneer question: Has CSU, the city or any elected or appointed public officials ever complained to the EPA about its increased mandates, comparing their impact on power companies and the public pocketbook against what would appear to be scarcely measurable improvements to GHG emissions?
       Snider response: Colorado Springs Utilities is dedicated to protecting the environment and the health and welfare of our community. We are proactive in regulatory and legislative processes to find the right balance between environmental regulations and keeping rates affordable for Colorado Springs ratepayers. Therefore, Colorado Springs Utilities and our partners, such as the American Public Power Association, actively represent our customer's concerns in development of environmental regulations. Our comments routinely compare costs and benefits of proposed regulation, because we recognize that balancing cost and benefits are important to our customers.

       Pioneer question: Is it even known what the current GHG emissions are in the region and how much the decommissioning of Drake will improve them? Or is it all about "public perception," to use a term from the consultant's study?
       Snider response: The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment completes a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory about every ten years. This inventory includes all known sources of GHGs in the state, including agriculture and forestry. Based on the most recent draft report, decommissioning Drake could reduce GHG emissions from Colorado roughly one percent.
       Regarding public perception, my colleagues on the Utilities Board and I are committed to engaging in a community conversation to receive input from the public before making any decision on Drake.

(Posted 2/18/14)

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