Fire leaves power plant's future, utility rates uncertain

Extent of damage, repair costs may determine fate of Drake facility

Fire Leaves Power Plant's Future, Utility Rates Uncertain

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Monday's fire at the Drake power plant in Colorado Springs could affect the ongoing discussion about whether the facility should close or remain open.

Environmentalists have said the plant is outdated and inefficient.  However, many city leaders, like Colorado Springs City Council member Andy Pico, want to keep the plant.

"My personal opinion is we should keep it in operation as long as possible because it's the lowest-cost option," he said.  "I've always looked at Drake being a long-term anchor of our (energy) portfolio, but we'll see."

Pico said the Utilities Board, which includes several City Council members, has been contemplating the plant's future and expected to make a final decision this summer.

Another factor is the possibility of higher electric bills for consumers as the summer peak demand period approaches.

John Romero, general manager of energy services at Colorado Springs Utilities, said it's too soon to determine whether a rate increase is necessary.  He said the amount of damage and repair costs must be included in any decision about rates.

Romero said Drake generates about a third of CSU's electricity and uses relatively cheap coal as fuel.  To replace the power lost at Drake, CSU is starting or increasing production at the Birdsall, Nixon and Front Range plants.

However, two of those plants use natural gas as fuel -- which is twice as expensive as coal.

"So prices are more expensive for us to replace that power," Romero said.  "The exact impact on a customer's bill has yet to be determined.  We're looking at (different) situations and looking at what we can do if a long-term situation occurs."

Romero said the power plant fire is a new experience for CSU and a rarity across the country.  The issue of Drake's future likely will be discussed at City Council and Utilities Board meetings later this month.

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