COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Springs Utility owns the Clear Springs Ranch on the semi-arid prairie southeast of the city, and operates two power plants — one coal and one natural gas.
Nearby, utility contractors have installed 140,000 solar panels.
These facilities, along with the coal-fired Drake power plant in the middle of downtown, generate electricity for a rapidly growing city.
But the city leaders who run CSU have ordered a shut down of Drake by 2035 and progressively greater emphasis on the renewable sources of energy.
Inside the coal plants, however, work crews are operating as if the shift in priorities never happened.
“We personally don’t allow that to affect us,” said Rob Rawson, the operations superintendent of the coal-fired Nixon power plant. “There is no date for us… I’m running this plant as if it’s going to run forever.”
Colorado Springs residents may favor moving towards more renewable energy, but it’s uncertain how much more they’re willing to pay on their utility bills.
“It’s an elected board by our customers. They make these decisions,” utility spokesperson Amy Trinidad said, referring to the city council that directs CSU.
There are signs Colorado Springs residents support a faster shift to green energy.
“We have multiple community solar gardens where customers can purchase a percentage of the array. They get a credit on their bill,” said Dave Padgett, CSU’s environmental services manager.
“You still have to have this base load that backs up the renewables,” Padgett said, referring to non-renewable resources like coal and natural gas.
Solar as an energy source faces challenges. Cloud cover and night mean solar panels can only produce at their full capacity about a quarter of the time. CSU officials say they are exploring ways to store the energy produced by the solar array so that residents could use this energy when there isn’t any sunlight.
Colorado state laws are also changing to reflect the citizens desire for more renewable energy.
“We’re required to have 10 percent renewable energy by 2020,” said Padgett, “but by 2020 we we want to be 20 percent renewable.”
CSU officials said they want to install more solar panels around the city.
But they also question whether the city could ever rely entirely on just renewables, Padgett said. “I’m not sure the world could ever get there.”