End of an era: Drake Power Plant in downtown Colorado Springs shuts down for good

Martin Drake Power Plant on its final day of operation.
Martin Drake Power Plant on its final day of operation.(KKTV)
Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 2:31 PM MDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2022 at 2:07 PM MDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The Martin Drake Power Plant era has come to an end.

When the plant was first built in Colorado Springs, Prohibition was law, silent films were still in theaters, and flapper dress was all the rage. It signed off 97 years later in a tweet.

The end of Drake originally wasn’t supposed to happen until next decade, but in 2017, Colorado Springs Utilities opened the door for decommissioning the plant as early as 2025 -- exactly 100 years after it was built. In 2020, Springs Utilities voted to accelerate that timeline even earlier, to 2023.

The plant’s purpose for the last near-century has been providing energy to the community. Its closure will usher in a new era of clean energy, as part of Colorado Springs Utilities’ Sustainable Energy Plan, adopted by the Utilities Board in 2020.

Ahead of the closure, the plant stopped burning coal last year and had been using two generating units that run on natural gas.

“I am extremely grateful to our employees, both past and present, who helped the Drake Power Plant operate as a fixture of reliability and efficiency for nearly 100 years, and who have helped us reach this vital milestone,” said Aram Benyamin, chief executive officer for Springs Utilities.

For now, the plant is still standing, but it’ll eventually be leveled. In a nod to the cleaner future city leaders are envisioning, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the land could potentially become a park.

“The property out here is below the confluence of Fountain and Monument [creeks]. Is that where we have a kayak park? Do we put a beach down there? All that sort of things,” he told 11 News.

The full news release from Colorado Springs Utilities can be read below:

News release from Colorado Springs Utilities:

In a major milestone on the path to decommissioning the downtown Martin Drake Power Plant, all electric generation inside the plant will be permanently shut down as of Thursday, Sept. 1.

In the two years since the decision to decommission the plant, we:

  • Stopped burning coal in August 2021.
  • Removed the coal pile and all associated equipment.
  • Found new jobs within the organization for more than 40 former Drake employees.
  • Began installation of six temporary natural gas units adjacent to the plant.
  • Have now ceased all generation activities inside the plant.

“I am extremely grateful to our employees, both past and present, who helped the Drake Power Plant operate as a fixture of reliability and efficiency for nearly 100 years, and who have helped us reach this vital milestone,” said Aram Benyamin, Chief Executive Officer for Springs Utilities.

Since last August, the two remaining generating units inside the Drake Power Plant ran on natural gas and served as peak load units and only ran as needed.

The six modular natural gas units currently being installed outside the plant – set to be commissioned in 1st Quarter 2023 – will also serve as peak load generation and will remain onsite until a new transmission line is built. The modular units will then be relocated to other parts of the system by 2027 to continue to serve a vital function in preserving the reliability of Colorado Springs Utilities’ electric grid.

The next steps in fully removing the Drake Power Plant structure include the selection of a contractor to oversee the physical breakdown and removal of the plant’s internal equipment, stacks and exterior facade. This process is expected to take approximately three years.

“For nearly a century, the Martin Drake Power Plant has served a vital function in Colorado Springs,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. “Today’s milestone is bittersweet because it marks the end of an era. Our city will move forward with cleaner, but still reliable and affordable forms of energy, and our enhanced downtown skyline will help us continue to be a city that matches our beautiful scenery.”

The decommissioning of the Drake Power Plant is a key component of Colorado Springs Utilities’ Sustainable Energy Plan, adopted by the Utilities Board in June 2020. The adoption came only after an 18-month public process to obtain customer and community input, and an assessment of a growing regulatory landscape that includes aggressive targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to move away from fossil fuels.

The Sustainable Energy Plan includes the following targets:

- Reduce carbon emissions at least 80% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

- Retire all coal generation by 2030 and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

- Integrate new technologies responsibly by modernizing the electric grid and partnering with customers to create distributed energy resources throughout the community.

- Increase renewable energy and incorporate storage resources.

“This exciting development started with the Board’s decision two years ago,” said City Council member and Utilities Board Chair Wayne Williams. “After an extensive public process and an in-depth study by the citizens on our Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, we chose to close the inefficient, 97-year-old Drake Power Plant. Our replacement electric power production is more resilient, less costly and more environmentally friendly. Waiting for the state or federal government to dictate our path forward was never an option. Not only was the retirement of this aging coal-fired power plant the right decision from an environmental and financial perspective, it also creates options for enhancing our community’s economic vitality.”

To help manage future energy-related costs and adapt to a changing energy industry, Colorado Springs Utilities is pursuing several key initiatives, starting with its entry into the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) on Aug. 1, 2022. Becoming a member of SPP benefits Colorado Springs Utilities customers by helping to insulate them from a volatile energy market, enhances the current and future reliability of the electric grid, and expands the ability to meet the organization’s clean energy goals.

By early 2024, Colorado Springs Utilities plans to add the 175 MW Pike Solar project to its system. When built, it will be the largest solar facility on the organization’s electric grid. Additionally, by 2024, Colorado Springs Utilities will add up to 100 MW of battery storage – the first of its kind on the system. Battery storage can increase grid resiliency and flexibility as new resources are added to the organization’s energy portfolio.

After adding Pike Solar to the existing solar, wind and hydro resources, renewable energy is estimated to represent 27% of Colorado Springs Utilities’ energy portfolio.