Aram Benyamin: Utilities is creating a bright energy future 

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We enjoy some of the best air quality among all Colorado’s cities. It’s one of the reasons people choose to live in Colorado Springs.

We are proud of our work to significantly decrease power plant emissions and improve the region’s air quality, especially at our Martin Drake Power Plant located downtown. The plant’s emissions are lower today than ever.

This topic was featured in last week’s Independent as an opinion piece. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify a few points and highlight how we continually improve as your energy provider.

The Drake Power Plant complies with very strict air quality standards enforced by the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDPHE) and the Environmental Protection Agency. It is the responsibility of these agencies to ensure public health is protected.

Among the ways they do this is by establishing permit limits, performing ambient air quality monitoring and issuing public health alerts. Local monitoring performed by CDPHE demonstrates continued compliance and improvement in ambient air quality for sulfur dioxide (SO2).

The equipment that captures SO2 is commonly referred to as scrubbers. Last year, these scrubbers were in operation more than 99.5 percent of the time when the plant was running. As a result, the plant’s emissions of sulfur dioxide have decreased by 98 percent since 2005. This significant drop demonstrates the removal effectiveness and the careful monitoring and operation of the scrubbers.
Over the same period, we have decreased the plant’s emissions of nitrogen oxides by 73 percent and carbon dioxide by 51 percent. This has been done by retiring the plant’s oldest generating unit and installing new control equipment.

To further demonstrate responsible environmental stewardship, as of Jan. 1, 2019, we voluntarily restricted the plant’s operating procedures. If the scrubber is going to be off for more than a three-hour period, such as for repairs, we take swift action. Our options during these rare instances include switching to natural gas or taking the unit(s) offline.

It’s important to understand the graphs presented in last week’s article do not represent whether we comply with permit limits. The graphs shown are plotting hourly data against our permit limit. However, our SO2 permit limit is not an hourly limit. Instead it’s a 30-day average, which we have [been] and continue to be well below.

Our work to decrease the plant’s impact on our air quality remains paramount as we plan for its decommissioning. We continue to study replacement generation and transmission needs to close the plant no later than 2035 as currently directed by our Utilities Board.
As we incorporate new technologies into our system and update our Electric Integrated Resource Plan we will provide the Board with various closure options. Our goal is to avoid significant rate increases as we strengthen our transmission system and acquire additional generation resources.

I’m excited about our efforts to create a new energy landscape for our community. We’re making great strides toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.

Last year, we generated more power than ever before from natural gas. Our Front Range Power Plant can generate more power than our two coal-fired plants combined and is a crucial asset as we integrate more renewables into our system.

We continue to grow our renewable generation. We are targeting late 2019 to bring two solar projects online that will generate 95 megawatts of electricity. I also look forward to soon announcing plans to add another 150 megawatts of solar generation plus battery storage to our system in the early 2020s.

These projects will change the way we power the region for decades. Once operational, we’ll power more than 75,000 homes yearly with carbon-free energy.

Earlier this year I announced efforts to create a new Energy Vision that proactively and responsibly takes on challenges never seen before in the energy industry.

Our community is the foundation of our work and we are committed to its growth, vitality and quality of life. I invite you to attend our Energy Vision Open House at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, at our Leon Young Service Center, 1521 Hancock Expressway. Come learn about the transforming energy landscape and weigh in on our draft Energy Vision that will allow us to better serve you by thinking differently, becoming more creative and embracing new technology.

Aram Benyamin became Colorado Springs Utilities’ CEO in October 2018, serving the prior three years as Utilities’ energy supply manager.

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