Nov 16, 2012 1:27 AM by Eric Ross
As Colorado Springs Utilities moves forward with their multi-million dollar plan to improve air quality at the Martin Drake power plant downtown, a local agency acting as a watchdog for environmental quality is gearing up for a lawsuit.
The target of that suit is CSU.
The Sierra Club claims CSU allowed the plant to violate the Clean Air Act.
"Our coal plants are the cheapest alternative we have for providing energy to our community," said Chief Energy Services Officer Bruce McCormick.
However, it may not necessarily be the safest, or cleanest.
A recent survey also spotted a problem---two coal fire-powered generators that should be taken out of service.
After so many years of operation, components need to be repaired or replaced to meet safety regulations.
In order to surpass air quality standards, CSU drew up a $121 million plan to install a new high tech system to filter out potentially toxic fumes.
"This new emissions control is to create cleaner air over the next several years," McCormick added.
Some disagree that system would benefit the city.
"Martin Drake emits tons and tons of toxic pollutants that impact people's health," Bryce Carter with the Sierra Club said.
For years, Carter alleges CSU has not been able to provide proof the facility has undergone required inspections or reviews.
He notes this could jeapordise safety and says as long as coal continues to burn, your health could be put at risk.
He referred to a recent 2010 study conducted by the Clean Air Task Force to back up his claims.
"They are showing that Martin Drake emitted 3,415 tons of Nitrogen Oxide and over 6,000 tons of Sulfur Dioxide along with Mercury (into the air)," he said. "All these pollutants (can) cause short term and chronic respiratory diseases."
That's why Carter is preparing to file a lawsuit if CSU goes on with plans to burn coal.
CSU remains confident they have done nothing wrong.
"We certainly believe we've complied with the law throughout the life of those plants," McCormick said.
He goes on to say their goal has always been to provide low cost and reliable home grown energy.
However, Mayor Steve Bach is skeptical whether to continue on with that philosophy.
"Before we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a 70 year old power plant, I think we should be stepping back and looking globally," he said.
Bach also asked, "Do we want to continue owning all of our utilities?"
That's the million dollar question now up for debate.
Bach and at least three council members are open to looking elsewhere for a new energy supply.
Thoughts of selling the facility have also crossed the table.
Meanwhile, CSU says by having energy produced locally, your rates are 20-percent lower than what others in our region are paying.
Disclaimer: All video and pictures used in this news story are meant to depict the day-to-day operations of the Martin Drake Plant. Whether the facility or CSU violated any state or federal laws has yet to be determined in a court of law. As of Nov. 16, 2012, Sierra Club has only filed an intent to sue CSU.