COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — The Martin Drake Power Plant will finish burning its last load of coal this weekend. Colorado Springs Utilities has generated electricity on this land in the southwest corner of downtown for more than a century. Crews at the plant turned the coal conveyer belt on for the final time at 11:04 a.m. Friday.
"We'll have a crane in here in the next month or so, where you'll see those structures disappearing," said manager Somer Mese.
The city will eventually replace the electricity produced here with the completion of the new 175-megawatt Pike Solar and Storage Project. Over the coming weeks, six modular gas-burning generators will be brought to the site as the plant is torn down.
Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin was joined by current and former members of the Colorado Springs Utility Board for a celebration at the plant Friday. Jill Gaebler, the immediate past president of the CSU Board of Directors told the audience that this milestone is a major step forward for producing cleaner energy in the community.
"We must envision a future of our downtown that doesn't include coal generation, and a future for our city that is cleaner, healthier and truly an Olympic city, and a city of sunshine," Gaebler said.
The CSU Board had originally planned to close the plant in 2035. Current board president Wayne Williams explained that changing market conditions enabled CSU to speed up the closure by years.
"The price of generating coal became more expensive than we could actually buy power on the spot market," Williams said. "So, that didn't make sense to continue to generate coal at an economic loss."
Benyamin noted that the board and other leaders within CSU worked to ensure that all of the employees at the plant will have jobs after the closure. As of Friday, 45 of the 46 employees here had either started new positions or will have one waiting for them when the demolition work is finished.
"That's not the norm, most of us would be expecting to be laid off and have to find other employment," Mese said. "So, they've done a fantastic job of helping our employees learn about other aspects of this utility and placing them."
The transmission infrastructure will also remain on the property during this transition period. Construction of the new Horizon substation near the Colorado Springs Airport will help distribute the power coming from the Pike and Palmer solar farms.
By 2023, the city will own land that needs to be reclaimed in a part of town that is already booming with construction.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told the crowd that the confluence of the Fountain and Monument Creeks at America the Beautiful Park, just north of the Drake property, can produce enough water flow to support a kayak park.
"A lot of decisions have to be made, I won't be around when they're made as mayor, but I can see kind of America the Beautiful Park extending this direction in terms of recreational opportunities," the mayor said.
The only remaining power plant in the Colorado Springs Utilities portfolio to still burn coal for electric generation is the Ray Nixon plant near Pikes Peak International Raceway. The Colorado Springs Utilities Sustainable Energy Plan calls for the elimination of all coal as an energy source by 2030. That would help CSU to reach a projected 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions.