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Colo. muni committee to recommend 2 coal-fired plant closures by 2023, 2030

An advisory committee for Colorado Springs Utilities unanimously voted in favor of closing the Martin Drake coal-fired power plant no later than 2023 and the Ray D Nixon coal-fired plant no later than 2030, which would help the utility reduce its emissions by 80% by 2030.

"We're certainly going down the path of the future," Vice Chair Scott Harvey said during the June 3 virtual meeting of the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee.

The closures are outlined in an integrated resource plan that the committee will recommend to the final decision-maker on the matter, the Colorado Springs' Utilities Board, on June 17. During the June 3 meeting, the committee considered five potential electric generation portfolios, all of which would have involved retiring the two coal-fired facilities, albeit with different closure dates.

The Drake plant has a capacity of 208 MW, and its two remaining online units units 6 and 7 have been operating since 1968 and 1974, respectively, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. In 2015, the utility board slated Drake for closure in 2035, utility spokesperson Amy Trinidad said.

The remaining 208-MW unit at the Nixon plant was brought online in 1980, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. Trinidad said no retirement date has been formally set for that unit.

Colorado Springs has 114 MW of solar power purchase agreements in place, including with NextEra Energy for its Grazing Yak Project and Clear Spring Ranch Solar Project, as well as other renewable energy and hydro power. Trinidad said the company has plans to bring on another 150 MW of solar power and is in final contract negotiations for that power, which Colorado Springs Utilities expects to bring online by the end of 2023.

The integrated resource plan also includes a resource portfolio that essentially would maintain the utility's current level of natural gas-fired generation for peak periods and relies on demand response and energy efficiency measures to push off the need for a new propane air plant until 2040. An expansion of the existing plant may be necessary, although Trinidad could not confirm how much it would need to be expanded.

When asked about the possibility that more gas generation could be added, Trinidad said, "maybe down the road, but in the coming years, no."

"We've got it broken out, just through the coming years, like 2025 or so, we're looking at [demand response] and energy efficiency," Trinidad said, noting that the recommended integrated resource plan more generally looks as far out as 2050.

In response to a resident's expressed concern for potentially displaced utility employees, Colorado Springs' staff said during the meeting that any impacted workers would be kept on the payroll.

"We've always said that our workforce is going to be retrained and replaced in the organization, so none of the employees who are working in any of the power plants that are going to transition ... there's no plans for any layoffs or anything like that," a utility staff member said.

In addition to the 80%-by-2030 emissions reduction, the proposed plan purports also to put the utility on the path to emissions reductions of 90% by 2050. In 2018, the Colorado Springs, Colo., utility settled a Clean Air Act lawsuit related to the Drake plant alleging that utility staff repeatedly had failed to ensure air quality monitoring.

"This puts us on the right path to be able to accomplish whatever it is [that is] put in front of us," Trinidad said, adding that the state soon may institute its own specific reductions goals for electric utilities in Colorado. "It's more like we control our own destiny and we have options in front of us no matter what situation" the state mandates.