Skip to main content area Skip to sub-navigation
Skip to main content


This film addresses where we get our electricity while living at Colorado College. It unveils some of the complex processes behind the magical light switch. Professor of Environmental Science, Howard Drossman, points out that Martin Drake coal-fired power plant is generating most of electricity that we use at the college. The film also highlights some of our current initiatives to switch to non-carbon-polluting sources of energy and offset our emissions at Colorado College. Filmed in 2014 by Alex Suber and Julian Kraus-Polk.

Where does our energy come from in Colorado Springs?

In Colorado Springs, 52% of the energy used to power the city is generated from coal-fired power while 41% of energy used comes from natural gas and hydroelectric energy sources. Although there is progress towards implementing more Solar and Wind energy generation, these technologies currently make up a little more than 2% of our overall energy portfolio. If we are to uphold our stated mission of sustainability and environmental stewardship, we must actively conserve energy and innovate and implement less carbon intensive ways to fulfill our energy needs. 

Colorado Springs’ 2014 Energy Consumption
Electricity Portfolio breakdown by Fuel Type

Fuel Type Megawatt Hours Generated YTD %
Coal 2,422,863 *52.04%
Nat. Gas 1,544,521 33.17%
Hydro 404,613 8.69% (non-carbon)
Wind 108,000 2.32% (non-carbon)
Solar 13,987 0.3% (non-carbon)
*Mixed Mkt 162,175 3.48%

(Source: Colorado Springs Utilities)

* Mixed market indicates power that Colorado Springs Utilities buys from other utilities without specifying specific fuel/generation type

Where does our coal come from?

The Martin Drake and Nixon Power Plants receive surface-mined bituminous coal from the Powder River Basin and Foidel Creek coalmines. Multiple times a day, trains loaded with coal from these coalmines pass by on the train tracks just west of the Colorado College campus.

How much energy does Colorado College use?

15,433 Megawatt Hours in all of 2014

How is Colorado College’s energy generated?

  • Because of our proximity to the Martin Drake Coal Fired Power Plant, it is likely that the majority of the 15,433 Mega Watt Hours/Year come from coal (In an energy grid you receive energy from the closest energy producer in the system)

How does burning coal generate electricity?

  • Coal is pulverized into a fine powder and then mixed with hot air, which is then blown into a “firebox” and burned within the boiler; this process generates large amounts of heat.
  • This heat is then used to turn water into steam. The steam reaches temperatures close to 1,000˚ Fahrenheit and pressures of 3,000 pounds per square inch.
  • The pressurized steam is then used to push a series of turbine blades that turn a turbine shaft. The turbine shaft is connected to a turbine generator, where magnets spin within wire coils to produce electricity.

(Source: Duke Energy)

What are Colorado College’s energy goals?

  • Carbon Neutrality by 2020,
  • Colorado College is a signatory of the American College & Universities (ACU) Climate Commitment.
  • ACU Climate Commitment defines climate neutrality as: having no net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to be achieved by eliminating net GHG emissions, or by minimizing GHG emissions as much as possible, and using carbon offsets or other measures to mitigate the remaining emissions.

What changes are being made?

  • Efficiency projects have reduced our energy consumption by 12% from 2011 levels and continue to be a primary focus for reducing our carbon footprint.
  • We are continually increasing the amount of renewable energy we generate on campus – currently we generate about 3% of our own energy with solar panels on our campus. Our latest project is a solar array large enough to cover 100% of our Baca Campus’ energy use being installed in August 2015 by incoming CC students as part of New Student Orientation.
  • The Spencer Center, renovated in 2014, is now the most efficient building on campus and one of the most efficient commercial buildings in the state. The efficiency projects used in this renovation have set a new standard for new construction and renovations on our campus.
  • The new Tutt Library, currently in design phase, will be a net-zero energy building.

Page Editors:

Ian Johnson, Director of the Office of Sustainability at Colorado College

Mark Ferguson, Energy Manager at Colorado College

Other Sources:

Colorado Springs Utilities Data