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Energy

An obituary for coal at the Martin Drake Power Plant in Colorado Springs, by the numbers

Final burn of black carbon at the Colorado Springs Utility plant prompts a reckoning of its impact on the mechanical and environmental worlds.

A Colorado Springs Utilities worker touches the scoop of a Caterpillar 854K coal dozer as he passes by on the final day of coal burning at the Martin Drake Power Station Aug. 27, 2021 in Colorado Springs. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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COLORADO SPRINGS — After 95 years of pumping electricity and belching smoke across downtown Colorado Springs, the Martin Drake Power Plant stopped burning coal Saturday.

Long targeted by angry neighbors and local and national environmental groups decrying the intense air pollution, Drake was one of the few downtown coal plants remaining in any large American city. 

Electricity has been an enormous boon to humankind. Coal-fired electricity may prove to be a significant contributor to the downfall of Earth’s climate. To mark the occasion that means so much to so many different groups, The Colorado Sun collected a series of facts about the Drake power plant. 

MORE: Colorado Springs has big plans for its downtown. But first the city must deal with the Martin Drake Power Plant.


Number of days Martin Drake power plant burned coal: 34,646, minus 30 days after a 2014 fire.

Moment on Aug. 28, 2021, that Martin Drake power plant burned coal for the last time: 6 p.m. 

Population of Colorado Springs, 1925: 31,000

Population of Colorado Springs, 2021: 498,879

Distance between the tallest Drake smokestack and Fountain Creek: Just over 300 feet. 

Height of the tallest Drake smokestack: 300 feet.

Number of times closing-day speakers compared Drake to switching from a charcoal barbecue to a gas grill: One.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Phrase used by Drake plant manager Somer Mese in describing the final minute of coal burning: “Time of death.” 

Amount of coal burned by Drake on a typical day: about 3,000 tons

Size of coal pile previously kept on hand at Drake as backup: 100,000 tons. 

Portion of power generated by Drake used to power the machinery that runs Drake: 7.6%

Number of coal trains arriving at Drake each year during normal production: 60

Number of coal cars per coal train: 120

Number of tons of coal in each train car: 117

Date of final coal train delivery to Drake, from low-sulfur coal fields in Wyoming: Aug. 5

Number of showers taken by coal mechanic Chris Cox at the end of each shift to get clean: Two. One at Drake, one at home. 

Percentage of Colorado electricity currently generated by coal in 2019: 44%: 

By natural gas: 30%

By wind: 19%

By nuclear: 0%

Martin Drake Power Station Plant Manager Somer Mese, answers questions about the plant’s operations on Aug. 27, 2021, the last day the facility burned coal to supply energy to its customers. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Percentage of U.S. total electricity generation by coal in 2019: 23%

By natural gas: 38%

By wind: 7%

By nuclear: 19%

Most recent coal-fired plant closing in Colorado previous to Drake: Nucla, 2019

Next coal-fired plant scheduled to close: Comanche 1, Pueblo, December 2022

Estimate of local tax revenues lost when Comanche 3 closes, in 2040 at the latest: $15 million

Number of employees needed to operate a coal-fired power plant like Drake: 80

Number of employees needed to operate the gas-fired turbines replacing coal at Drake: 12

Number of employees laid off as part of the transition from coal to gas: 0

Read more energy coverage from The Colorado Sun

Ambient temperature inside coal plant in which mechanics had to fix machinery while wearing impenetrable fire-resistant suits: 140 degrees. 

Machine that Drake coal mechanic Chris Cox considered the most challenging to fix: The coal pulverizer.

Number of coal mines operating in and around Colorado Springs alone when Martin Drake first opened: 50

Number of coal mines currently operating in all of Colorado now: 7

Amount of coal burned by Drake in 2015: 896,834 tons

Price range of Wyoming coal burned at Drake: $9 to $40 per ton. 

Amount of carbon dioxide pollution produced by burning 1 million British thermal units of coal: 200 pounds.

Amount of carbon dioxide pollution produced by burning 1 million Btu of natural gas: 117 pounds.

This photo, dated circa 1924, shows early construction of the Martin Drake Power Plant in Colorado Springs.(Handout, Colorado Springs Utilities)

Temperature at which coal- or gas-fired steam operates when turning Drake electrical turbines: 950 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Distance of Drake power plant’s coal stockpile from the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail: 120 feet

Distance from Drake power plant to America the Beautiful Park: 500 feet

Portion of coal made up of moisture: 27%

Portion of coal left over as ash after burning: 5%

Amount of coal ash from Drake placed in the Clear Spring Ranch landfill near Fountain Creek In 2016:  1,260 tons

Amount of toxic air pollution Colorado Springs Utilities reported was produced by Martin Drake Plant in 2016: 1.3 million tons. 

Amount of sulfur dioxide emitted by Drake before custom-designed scrubbers were installed in 2017: 330 tons a month. 

Amount of sulfur dioxide emitted after installation: 30 tons a month. 

Amount of power produced by Drake at peak capacity: 220 megawatts

Amount of power produced by the first solar power array attached to the Colorado Springs Utility grid: 1 megawatt. 

Amount of power produced by solar panels for Colorado Springs Utilities when its next solar array goes online: 289 megawatts. 

Multiple of coal power capacity at Drake on its last day compared to its first day 95 years earlier: 100X. 

Number of homes serviced by Drake at peak demand: 220,000

Amount of coal-fired power retired in the U.S. in past 10 years: 102 gigawatts, from over 546 plants

Year announced by Colorado Springs Utilities to finish demolishing Drake smokestacks and power plant: 2025


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