2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

City councilor answers Drake questions, says $135 million scrubbers work

Published: March 12, 2014, 5:35 pm, by Monica Mendoza

Following a recent article in the Gazette with an update on the installation of scrubber technology at Martin Drake coal-fired power plant, resident Paul Kleinschmidt sent a letter to all city council members with additional questions.

 “We asked for the answers of these questions from you on Feb. 11, 2014, we have read the Gazette’s article from the Sunday paper on this subject, when can we expect your answers?”

Council member Andy Pico, a member of the Drake Task Force, read the questions and answers Tuesday at the city council meeting.

 Does it work? 

Yes. The system has been tested three times and has proven to both work and be scalable in larger installations.  Preliminary testing of the technology indicated cleaner air – 97 percent removal of (sulphur oxides) SOx. This is a significantly higher than conventional scrubbers.  The NSG (Neumann Systems Group) scrubber technology’s other advantages over conventional scrubbing equipment include significantly lower water and energy use and a smaller footprint, which is critical for implementation at the unique Drake property.  The evaluation concluded that the SOx removal performance of the NeuStreamTM system met the design criteria of greater than 90 percent removal, and that there do not appear to be any barriers to full-scale implementation.

What was the total budget?   

The original project estimate in 2011 was $121 million, which included $10 million for needed improvements to the Drake plant.  The current total project estimate of $131.5 million also includes plant improvements.  This increase of $10.5 million is primarily attributable to construction and project cost being updated to 2013 costs.

During the testing and development phases of the NSG system, Utilities contracted with Stanley Consultants, a large international Engineering, Environmental and Construction firm to produce comparative cost estimates for conventional technology for the Drake units.  The information in that review yielded an estimate of $158 million for conventional technology – $168 million with plant improvements, and that would remove 90 percent of targeted emissions rather than the 97 percent which NSG is expected to produce.  A key constraint is the limited space available in Drake for Units 6 &7 which drives some of the engineering cost estimates.

What is the total cost to date? 

The total cost through the end of 2013 is approx. $75 million.

Does that include all costs, including the other costs for upgrading Martin Drake for this technology?   

Yes, all costs for the scrubber project are included in the above figures. 

How much revenue have we earned from Neumann Systems for our share of sales for this new technology to other utility companies? 

Zero, so far.  As part of the contract signed with Neumann Systems Group, Colorado Springs Utilities has negotiated to receive 3 percent of future sales of the technology for ten years after it becomes available commercially upon the successful installation at Drake. 

The royalties on future sales were not a factor in the decision to move forward with NSG scrubber.  Using the NSG scrubber is a sound business decision for our community even if no future sales are made.

What is the plan Colorado Springs Utilities has if this technology doesn’t work and cannot meet the 2017 deadline? 

As stated in the reply to question No. 1 above, the technology is fully expected to work.  In the event that it does not, other options will be considered.  I can think of several at the moment, which means that I’ve missed something.

The full-scale project was started in 2010, well ahead of the regulatory deadline of 2017.  The expected start-up date for the Drake 7 system and the common facilities to support both Drake 6 and Drake 7 is June 2015.  As with any scrubber, additional fine tuning and refinements will continue after initial start-up.  If it doesn’t work, we will have two years to decide on another option.

Also considered are that the NSG installation will use less power and water than a conventional installation resulting in over $2 million in annual savings when in operation.

A full and open RFP for Drake Unit 5 and Nixon are currently in progress in which conventional technologies will be considered.