Coal plant employees survive amidst dying industry


As a part of Colorado’s goal to reduce emissions and air pollution, the Martin Drake coal-run power plant is currently planned to be decommissioned by 2035. With this plan, comes uncertainty regarding the jobs of almost 1,800 people throughout the corporation.

“It hurts a little bit, thinking about decommissioning,” said plant manager Ian Gavin. After working at the plant for thirteen years, it’s no wonder he’s experiencing some melancholy feelings about such a change.

Even though it means a colossal change is barreling towards them, the employees at the Martin Drake power plant are overall welcoming of the transition towards more renewable energy sources with optimism and flexibility. “I really don’t have any concerns, it’s different, but you have to adapt and grow with it,” said Operations Crew member David Berterand. “I think it’s very exciting, where the industry is headed,” added communications person Amy Trinidad.

The decommissioning project is a manifestation of decisions made in 2015 by the Colorado Springs Utilities Board and mirrors environmental policy and legislation coming from the state department. John Putnam, Director of environment programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), is one of the leading forces in such decision making and says that the state has a goal of reducing its emissions by 50% by 2035, the year of the proposed decommissioning.

“It’s going to be a wholesale change in the environment,” said Putnam. According to Putnam, Colorado could be experiencing atmospheric conditions mirroring those of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the coming years if serious action, such as widespread reduction in fossil fuel use, is not taken to combat climate change.

Putnam and the CDPHE are also recognizing the effects of climate change in terms of the economy and the mental health of the public. Putnam stresses the fact that mental health is tied to economic factors, which are directly impacted by the changing environment. He references job security as an example of this, drawing connections to changes in the Colorado ski seasons, affecting seasonal employment, which can lead to negative mental health effects such as substance abuse and depression. The Martin Drake employees are equally susceptible to such mental health effects as a direct result of changes in their industry.

In the face of job uncertainty, the employees at the Martin Drake Plant are nevertheless excited about the transition to more sustainable power sources in Colorado Springs and hope to maintain involvement even after 2035.

“They’ll have to drag me out kicking and screaming,” said Berterand. These people are sacrificing things and adjusting their lives for the sake of a better, more sustainable world. Yes, there is some fear of the unknown, but one thing is for sure. They are doing what they can to ease the transition into a more sustainable future.

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