COLORADO SPRINGS- As our group of Colorado college students rode up to Colorado Springs’s (CSU) coal fired power plant southeast of the city, CSU’s public relations chief Amy Trinidad waited energetically in front of the plant. She greeted us as we got off our bus, seemingly eager to show off the utilities recent efforts to reduce reliance of fossil fuels and shift towards more renewable energy.
Trinidad quickly said to our group of young students that she thought we would be surprised by their recent sustainability efforts and we should remain open from what the media has traditionally portrayed about coal plants.
I feel a deep sense of panic regarding our world’s state in the midst of climate change. I try to reduce my carbon foot print by being vegetarian, raising my own chickens and thrifting clothes. Fossil fuel energy doesn’t necessarily fit into my picture of what the world should be doing to combat climate change. I remained skeptical of her claim.
We began the tour that would take us through CSU’s coal, natural gas, and solar facilities. Throughout the tour, it became clear that the plant had taken substantial efforts to reduce their emissions. The plant recently installed a Newman Scrubber to decrease Sulfur dioxide emissions and over fire air units to allow the coal to burn cleaner. Altogether, the upgrades cost the plant approximately $280 million. Per the upgrade, the plant reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by 26 percent.
Ray Nixon coal plant is unique because unlike most power plants, which are run by private companies, Ray Nixon is run by the CSU. This means the plant’s board of directors are elected officials, giving more oversight to the voters on Colorado Springs’s energy production.
Citizen’s greater voice in their energy intake has not resulted in a shift towards more renewables. Dave Padgett, chief of environmental services for CSU said shifting towards cleaner and more efficient energies is challenging for a variety of reasons. For one, he said that consumers aren’t willing to pay the price for clean energy. And while consumers would ideally like cleaner energies, the technology isn’t there to practically and economically make the shift.
“Demand for efficiency is increasing to a point where efficiency can’t keep up,” Padgett said.
In terms of cost, the cleanest energies are more expensive than coal and gas. Between the three energy sources ran by CSU, Solar is the most expensive to produce. Coal and natural gas have roughly the same production cost, running a consumer rate of $16-18 per megawatt per hour. Solar on the other hand runs $30-35 per megawatt per hour. Colorado mandated that powerplants to source at least 10 percent of their energy from renewables by 2020. CSU has more ambitious goals of sourcing 20 percent of energy from renewables by that date. If Coloradans want to see a larger shift towards renewables, they’ll have to vote with their dollars. The plant produces energy based on the lowest price in the market. Unless people consciously choose to consume more solar, coal and gas will remain the primary energies.
I walked away from the coal plant feeling guilty I had such negative preconceived notions. The workers at Ray Nixon weren’t the coal loving corporate sell outs that perhaps I expected. They weren’t ignorant to environmental issues, and they seemed to have a genuine interest in producing energy as clean as possible. They were enthusiastic on the premise of shifting towards renewables, but said the largest shaping factor on energy production is the consumer. Being a municipal entity, it’s not the corporate interest maintaining coal and natural gas’s dominance, it’s the consumers.
With Colorado increasingly facing the consequences of climate change through fires and drought, Colorado Springs consumers are faced with a greater responsibility in their energy consumption.