Has Colorado Springs Utilities Been Unfairly Maligned? 

COLORADO SPRINGS—Colorado Springs Utilities electricity providers still rely largely on coal but say they increasingly will rely on natural gas and solar.

“We’re not all the media portrays us to be,” public relations chief Amy Trinidad said during a recent visit.

The latest efforts are focused on implementing more solar panels. Solar energy currently costs twice as much per megawatt compared with coal and natural gas electricity, utility official said. Colorado Spring utilities contractors have installed 42,000 solar panels.

Beyond cost, solar panels can only produce energy full throttle 25 percent of the time due to clouds that block the sun and night time. Yet officials say city council has directed them to investigate battery storage potential and put up many solar panels by 2020.

“I’m not sure if the world can ever become 100 percent renewable,” CSU environmental manager Dave Padgett said.

Utility officials also have investigated putting in wind turbines. While looking at a cost to benefit ratio they concluded it would not be worth it to invest in wind turbines in Colorado Springs due to intermittent wind.

CSU runs a relatively new natural gas plant. They say cleaner burning bridge fuel compared with coal.

Yet coal still dominates.

Inside the Nixon coal plant southeast of Colorado Springs last week, heat radiated from the coal burners. Turbines roared underneath high ceilings. Utility officials required visitors to wear ear plugs and goggles.

The Nixon power plant was built in 1979. It runs on coal hauled by train from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. This coal is cheaper and relatively better for the environment due to its lower sulfur composition.

But the Nixon plant “is not going to run forever,” Padgett said, though government agency have not ordered an end to coal production even though have identified coal as a major contributor to greenhouse gases linked to climate change.

There has been a reduction at the CSU facilities of carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent since 2005, officials said.

CSU officials say they are trying to use water efficiently. All the water pulled up from the Fountain Creek water shed is cleaned for reuse. It’s zero-discharge facility officials said. They have made an effort to decrease their water usage in the construction of their Front Range Natural gas plant. Approximately 30 times less water is being used in comparison to the older Nixon coal plant.

Officials say they are also trying to deal with air pollution using the latest emissions filtering technology. Scrubbers are used to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution.

Solar costs have been falling rapidly. But CSU officials say Colorado Springs residents will only tolerate a 1 percent electricity bill increase. If there was a larger bill increase, officials said they could do more to propel renewable energy.

They say they have set a target of generating 20 percent of their energy by relying on the sun.

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