Colorado SpringsEnergyEnvironmentHot Sheet

State air quality panel sets hearing on Colorado Springs power plant

Author: Conrad Swanson, The Gazette - May 7, 2018 - Updated: May 7, 2018

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The Martin Drake Power Plant in Colorado Springs shot from Gold Hill Mesa in 2016. (The Gazette file photo)

Support for and opposition to a renewed operating permit for Colorado Springs Utilities’ coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant will be heard Monday night by the state Air Quality Control Commission.

The overdue permit would cement clean-air rules and regulations that apply to the plant, said Roland Hea, permitting section supervisor for the Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Put another way, the permit sets the plant’s pollution parameters, said Thomas Young, a spokesman for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

“It allows the plant to pollute within a certain set of restrictions,” said Young. “So it doesn’t over-pollute.”

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Drake’s last operating permit was issued in 2002 and expired in 2007.

The plant since had its permit extended by the CDPHE, said Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad, while complying with new state regulations and limits.

But the plant’s adherence to federal standards remains in question. The commission deemed its emissions “unclassifiable” last November for the second time in two years.

The public hearing starts at 6:15 p.m. Monday in Centennial Hall’s auditorium, 200 S.Cascade Ave. CLICK HERE for the agenda.

But no decision will be made for months, Hea said.

He said his division will respond to each comment in writing and tweak the permit as needed before forwarding it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA will review it for 45 days before determining whether to approve it.

Drake’s sulfur dioxide emissions dropped more than 95 percent between 2007 and 2017 after a $200 million, controversial scrubber system was installed on its coal-fired units, according to the CDPHE.

But Young questions the division’s use of 30-day averages to measure Drake’s sulfur dioxide emissions, as that overlooks spikes in the emissions.

The Sierra Club is asking the division to switch to a one-hour standard for Drake’s permit, Young said.

So is the City of Manitou Springs. It submitted a comment Wednesday, seeking assurance that plant emissions stay at safe levels, even when its scrubbers aren’t functioning at full capacity.

The letter, approved by the Manitou Springs City Council on Tuesday and signed by Mayor Ken Jaray, also asks the commission to switch to the one-hour standard.

That hourly limit, part of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, is not part of Drake’s proposed permit renewal, said Francois Raab, a computer systems engineer who is the Manitou council’s air quality liaison.

The EPA set that limit long after Drake’s permit last was renewed, said Raab, who drafted Manitou’s letter.

The 30-day average means emissions can spike for up to a week each month and still meet the limit, he said.

Jaray said he’ll present the letter at the hearing.

“We are a city that prides itself for our natural environment and our strong health and wellness traditions,” the letter says. “Many people from all over the world come to exercise in nearby Red Rock Canyon, hike the Manitou Incline and explore our many trails.

“We are deeply concerned over the potential danger that Martin Drake presents on the air we breathe.”

Hea said he anticipates such requests, but complying in Drake’s permit would be unusual.

“We have to consider, is there a basis for that? Is it warranted? Can we tie it back to requirements elsewhere, and is there a good reason for doing so?” Hea said. “I can’t think of any permits where we’ve imposed a one-hour standard or limit.”

Mark Harden

Mark Harden is managing editor of Colorado Politics. He previously was news director at the Denver Business Journal; city editor, online news editor, state editor, national editor and popular music critic at The Denver Post; and an editor and reporter at newspapers in the Seattle area and San Francisco.