Jun 26, 2014 12:51 AM by Maddie Garrett

Drake Power Plant Partially Running, Timeline to Lower Rates

The Martin Drake Power Plant is partially back online Wednesday, after a major fire shut the plant down in May. Unit 6 is fully operational, which produces about 30% of the plant's total power. That means Colorado Springs Utilities customers could soon see their rates go down.

CSU said the plan is to reduce the rate increase by 30%, which was put in place in May to cover fuel costs of buying power off the grid while Drake wasn't producing electricity. For the average household, it will likely be a savings about $1.50 on your monthly bill.

Still, steam coming from the plant was a welcome sign for many, after seven weeks of no power from the plant.

"And I looked up and there was the steam, and I just paused for a minute, and it was really fantastic seeing that we were back online," said Daniel Higgins, Energy Supply Department Interim General Manager.

Higgins led News 5 Investigates on a tour of Drake Wednesday, to get an up close look of the progress being made and repairs being done. Higgins said Unit 6 is up and running, sooner than expected, giving credit to crews working around the clock.

"We were really shooting for that July date and we're well ahead of schedule," he said.

With Unit 6 working, City Council will vote on slightly lowering rates at its meeting on July 8th. Any rate changes must be approved by City Council before taking effect.

"The idea is to have that implemented by July 11th," said Higgins.

Unit 6 produces about 77 megawatts on average and is running solely off coal right now. Unit 7 is expected to be up and running by the fall. It produces the most energy, about 131 megawatts. Once it's online, utility rates will likely go down again.

"When we have unit 6 and 7 running that's about 80% of the total capacity of Drake," explained Higgins.

Unit 7 was the farthest from the fire, but suffered major damage when the fire burned control wires. That caused the unit to continue running with no oil pressure, resulting in severe overheating.

Parts of the generator and turbine were so heavily damaged they had to be shipped to California for repairs. Higgins said work on Unit 7 is also ahead of schedule though.

At Unit 5, where the fire was, crews are still doing clean up.

"Unit 5, the turbine, generator itself we believe is in pretty good condition, it's just the damage to a lot of the secondary equipment that's down below the operating floor," said Higgins.

Unit 5 probably won't be back online until May 2015. But it's still unclear if rates will go back to pre-fire numbers when all three units are at fully functioning.

"I think a lot of that depends on Unit 5 and the market, when you talk about fuel costs, it's a very volatile situation," said Steve Berry, Spokesperson for Colorado Springs Utilities.

Berry explained that there are several factors that go into setting base rates for utilities, and it's difficult to predict what those will be in almost a year.

CSU also said the repairs will have no impact on the timeline to install the Neumann System Scrubbers. Unit 7 will be the first to get the new scrubbers, and Unit 6 will be next. CSU said Unit 5 is too small and will have a different kind of scrubber system installed after it is repaired.

When it comes to the cost of the repairs, the power plant has a $1 million deductible on its insurance policy.  Higgins said so far, they've reached about $7 million in repair costs, but that number is expected to go up as the plant gets back more invoices and more work is done.

Even with all of this work going on, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board is holding a public meeting Thursday to get input on decommissioning the Drake Power Plant. That meeting will be from 6:00pm to 8:00pm at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Avenue, Colorado Springs.

Berry said no matter what happens at that meeting, it will have no impact on the repairs to the plant, as those still have to get done, especially because the earliest proposed timeline to decommission Drake is at least 9 years down the road.


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