Colorado Springs downtown power plant may soon stop burning coal


The Martin Drake Power Plant downtown is aiming to cease burning coal in September as part of a transition to cleaner energy sources within Colorado Springs Utilities. 

Utilities only has one coal burning unit left at Drake, a generator built in 1968 that produces 77 megawatts of power or about 7% of the power produced through all of Utilities’ gas, oil and coal generators.

Staff members expect to shut the generator down Sept. 1 and transition it to natural gas, as they prepare to decommission the plant and tear it down, spokeswoman Natalie Watts said. The last delivery of coal to the plant is planned for August. Colorado Springs Utilities’ Ray Nixon Power Plant, south of the city near Fort Carson, will continue to burn coal through 2029. 

As part of Drake’s closure, Utilities received a state permit this week that allows the power provider to start construction on the six new natural gas generators that will replace the plant, about six weeks sooner than anticipated, said Chris Welch, a senior environmental specialist with Utilities. 

“This permit is a huge win for Utilities,” CEO Aram Benyamin told the Utilities board this week. 

Utilities expects to spend $100 million on the new generators that can burn natural gas or diesel, according to the recently issued permit. The transition to natural gas is expected to save Utilities money over time because the new generators require far fewer staff to run, Welch said. 

The diesel generation could be used in emergencies, like the record-low temperatures that swept across much of the country in February and sent the price of natural gas soaring, Welch said. 

The permit allows for Utilities to store as much as 30,000 gallons of diesel in 12 tanks on the site. Utilities is also planning for one emergency generator that would burn solely diesel, the permit said. 

Most of the time the new generators will run on natural gas, a fuel that produces half the carbon dioxide emissions compared to burning coal. It will also produce less sulfur dioxide and particulates, types of pollution that can irritate the lungs.

The new generation will help Utilities meet its goal of cutting carbon emission 80% by 2030. The power-provider is one of many working to cut carbon to meet the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2030. 

For example, Tri-State Generation and Transmission is aiming to cut its in-state greenhouse gas emissions 90% by 2030. Tri-State serves Mountain View Electric Association in northern and eastern El Paso County and Intermountain Rural Electric association, which serves counties including Teller, Park, Douglas and Jefferson. 


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