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CSU Board Votes for New Green Energy, Eyes Phasing Out Coal

The September 20th meeting of the CSU (Colorado Springs Utilities) board, where the board approved an aggressive plan for CSU (Colorado Springs Utilities) to purchase a series of new solar panel arrays, proved an entertaining affair. About a dozen concerned residents spoke in favor of phasing out coal and increasing solar, and, as you might expect, this included your typical PowerPoint presentations outlining the dangers of poisonous gases and global warming. But activists representing the local branch of 350.org, a grassroots organization seeking to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, turned the protests into art by putting on a small play.

In front of both the board (the same people that constitute the city council) and executives from CSU, members of 350 came dressed in full costume—one was a Drake exhaust pipe, adorned with a rising plume of toxic gas, the other a boxy solar panel—and put on a short, “3-round fight” between coal and solar that highlight the dangers of the former and the benefits of the latter. Some of the executives groaned at a line taking a shot at $200 million of wasted money on the Drake scrubbers, which, as data shows, have failed to “clean” coal exhaust. The play ended with a simulate sword fight, in which the solar panel toppled the coal exhaust pipe.

Not to be outdone by his guests, Vice Chair of the Board Andy Pico put on his own theater of the absurd, presenting a PowerPoint that called into question climate-change science. Sitting in a chair usually reserved for public comment, Pico showed chart after chart from right-wing websites funded by the Koch Brothers, never revealing his sources as he repeated the line that there “is still debate among scientists.” At one point, Chair Tom Strand reprimanded members of the crowd who assumed Pico’s responsibility by loudly naming his sources. Oddly, Pico did not seem offended—he was simply unaware that the sources of his charts mattered.

In the end, the board voted overwhelmingly to approve the maximum proposal offered by CSU for the development of new solar arrays. The plan authorizes CSU to contract ~$3 million in solar arrays, which CSU estimates will raise renewable energy production to 15.6%. Only two of the nine board members voted against this proposal; the aforementioned Pico, and the equally conservative (although certainly more astute) Bob Knight. Merv Bennett, who made clear that he does not oppose coal, voted for the plan nonetheless. To their credit, newly-elected members Richard Skorman and Yolanda Avila pushed for even greater solar expansion, with Yolanda calling for up to ~$6 million in solar arrays, but the board rejected their proposals. Nevertheless, Skorman and Yolanda’s presence permeated the meeting and certainly played a role in the board’s decision to adopt the most aggressive option offered by CSU.

THE NEXT STEP for the board will be to decide on the future of the Drake power plant. CSU presented a preliminary outline for the discussion of its future, and hinted at possibilities that involve ending toxic coal production in downtown Colorado Springs. These include the construction of transmission lines to bring in power from outside of the city, as well as either shutting down Drake entirely, or, at the very least, decommissioning its coal-burning functions (Drake also uses less-toxic natural gas).

350 ColoradoSprings (link https://www.facebook.com/350coloradosprings/)

John Jarrell is the Chair of the Grassroots Coordination Committee

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