Mayor Steve Bach said Thursday he hopes the City Council will reverse its decision to move ahead with plans to install “experimental” emissions control technology at the Martin Drake Power Plant downtown.
Last week, the council, acting as the Utilities Board, voted 7-2 to proceed with plans to install a pollutant-removing technology invented by Colorado Springs-based Neumann Systems Group. The technology is designed to clean sulfur dioxide from coal-burning power plants.
The council also voted to delay until 2013 a $500,000 study to look at decommissioning Drake, which was built in 1925 with two 2.5 megawatt generators. The plant
Councilwoman Angela Dougan and Brandy Williams voted in opposition.
“What’s the point of doing the study if they’re going to go ahead and upgrade the plant? It makes no sense,” Bach said on the Richard Randall radio show on KVOR.
Randall asked the mayor how he would respond to critics who would question why he was getting involved in matters pertaining to Colorado Springs Utilities when the utility company is overseen by council.
Bach pointed to his involvement with Memorial Health System, which is also under the purview of council.
“I think the voters expect the mayor to weigh in on matters of general importance to the community,” he said.
“I’m trying very hard not to interfere, not to micromanage or get in the way. But I think the future of our utilities is so important that folks, I think, want the mayor to weigh in,” he said.
Bach said he sent council a letter June 5 asking council to hold up on the expansion of Martin Drake “until we can, all of us, get comfortable with what’s the right direction.”
Bach said council has yet to respond to his letter.
“Respectfully, I’m just saying that I hope city council will reverse its recent decision to move forward with that technology until we can all be comfortable with the answer,” he said.
Williams said she’s heard unofficial discussions about reopening the debate over the power plant’s future.
“I know that phone calls are being made because people in the community are a little concerned what happened last time,” Williams said.
Williams said she was concerned that council didn’t have all of the research and information on the costs of shifting the Neumann system to the Ray Nixon Power Plant before it voted, and that it voted against the recommendation of Utilities’ staff to make the switch to Nixon while Drake’s future was discussed.
“We didn’t take our own best option,” Williams said.
However, Council President Scott Hente said he hasn’t heard any talks about taking another look at Drake and that he doesn’t think doing so would be fair to Neumann Systems Group.
“When we said, ‘Continue,’ I’m sure Neumann Systems started putting more money into it,” Hente said. “I’m not sure I want to keep jerking them around.”
Hente said Bach hasn’t spoken with him about the board’s decision.
Bach said the council’s decision reflects on past practices at City Hall.
“This is (an) example of whether we want to continue to do business as usual or whether we want to transform city government to be more efficient and more effective,” he said.
“I’m not talking about anything other than I believe we do not need Martin Drake Power Plant capacity. When we hit peak load in this city, we barely get into needing Martin Drake from what I’m told by people who are experts in that business outside of Colorado Springs Utilities. Now that needs to be fact checked,” he said.
“I’m also told that we could buy peak power from other providers, far less expensively than maintaining a 50-year-old power plant and upgrading it to the tune of $250 million. Shouldn’t we look at that?”
Utilities spokeswoman Natalie Eckhart said the $250 million cost is if Utilities converts both Drake and Nixon.
“The cost for Drake is $121 million,” she said.
Eckhart also said the community relies on Drake for its electricity.
“The statement that says that we barely use it is absolutely not true,” she said.
Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin said council decided July 18 that keeping Drake open offered the lowest costs for Utilities’ ratepayers.
“I think we just can’t continue to go back and forth on these decisions,” Martin said. “I’m comfortable we made the best decision last Wednesday to move forward with Neumann and Drake.”