FORT GARLAND — It was the utility companies’ turn Tuesday night to talk about a proposed new transmission line into the San Luis Valley.
The Transmission Line Coalition (TLC) hosted a forum Tuesday evening at the Blanca-Ft. Garland Community Center, where well over 100 people packed the community room and an overflow room behind it. This was the third forum hosted by TLC, a group that is opposed to the transmission line as currently proposed.
In previous forums, presenters proposed alternatives to the transmission line and shared their concerns and arguments against it.
Tuesday’s forum hosted representatives from the utility companies proposing the line, Tri-State Generation and Xcel (operated in Colorado as the Public Service Company of Colorado) that are sharing the project 40/60, respectively.
TLC asked the utility company spokespersons to address five main areas: 1) reliability and redundancy; 2) export capacity; 3) upgrades/updates to the existing system; 4) cost; and 5) impact/effect on ratepayers.
Audience members then had an opportunity to ask questions of the presenters. That portion of the meeting will be shared in Friday’s Courier.
Brad Jones, public affairs manager for Tri-State Generation, shared the status of the proposed new 230 kV power line that would cross La Veta Pass into the Valley. He said two concurrent processes are occurring, one involving a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity application before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and another involving a National Environmental Policy Act process required as part of funding applications to the U.S. Rural Utilities Service (RUS).
Jones said the PUC approved the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, but “they are going through ongoing litigation that should wrap up by late spring.”
The environmental process required by RUS has undergone a series of public scoping meetings already and will resume scoping meetings this fall. Jones said public comments can also be made at any time, and information gathered regarding the project (including possible routes), at www.socotransmission.com
Following are presenters’ responses to the five topic categories TLC asked them to address Tuesday night:
Currently the power lines in and out of the Valley are north/south, over Poncha Pass. The new power line would create an east/west transmission corridor over La Veta Pass, Jones explained. The Valley would then have the electrical redundancy the rest of the state already has, he said.
Rick Inman, a long-time SLV REC board member and past president, pointed out how power usage has changed over the years in the Valley with the mines in Creede being the largest single user when they were in operation, and the change in irrigation practices with the introduction of center pivots creating a greater power demand in the agricultural arena.
Inman said the REC board for some time had discussed its concerns with the current system and that if something happened on Poncha Pass to disrupt that system, “we could be in serious trouble in the Valley.”
The drought year of 2002 brought the issue to a peak, literally, when pumps strained to keep crops watered, Inman said.
In 2010 the Valley reached a critical point again, and the Valley will probably experience peak loads again this summer because of the lack of moisture, Inman added.
Tom Green, planning engineer with Xcel Energy, said just as there is only one way for power to get into the Valley, there is only one way for power generated from Valley renewable energy sources to get out. Currently, two photovoltaic solar facilities near Mosca feed 24 megawatts into the Xcel power grid, Green said. Xcel plans on putting another 60 megawatts online (30 each year) this year and 2012.
Legislation requires renewable energy identification and proposed transmission plans for energy resource zones, and the Valley was identified as one of the “brightest areas” in the U.S. for solar development, Green said.
“This project we have proposed will allow for over 750 megawatts in the Valley alone,” he said.
Presenters said improvements have been made to the lines going over Poncha and more would be made once the new line was in place, but Poncha was limited.
“Even if we upgrade the lines out of the Valley, we have got constraints getting the transmission and the power to our loads,” Green said. “We really don’t have any existing way out from Poncha.”
Green said new transmission going to the east from Poncha to create the redundancy that is needed would not be feasible because the lines there do not belong to Tri-State or Xcel and are already at capacity.
Tri-State Senior Engineer Gary Mueller said the estimated transmission line cost is $180 million. He described the factors involved in determining costs including single versus double circuit lines, routes, line length, number and types of structures, span length between them, width of right of way and the price of steel, the material the structures would likely be constructed of.
He anticipated the price of steel would remain high for a while because steel that would otherwise be used for construction projects in the U.S. would be going to Japan to help them rebuild after their catastrophe.
Both Jones with Tri-State and his counterpart with Xcel, Kathy Worthington, said the costs of this transmission line would be shared by the ratepayers throughout the system.
Jones said all of Tri-State’s 44 cooperatives, including the two in southern Colorado that will most directly benefit from this project, would share the cost of it.
Likewise, Worthington said, Xcel customers throughout the state will help pay for this project. She said Xcel has 1.3 million electric customers in Colorado alone.
“Our 1.3 million customers in Colorado share this cost,” she said.
Because of that, the cost of this project will equate to an increase of 34 cents a month for each residential customer, or a half-percentage increase, Worthington said.
Jones said Tri-State hired Development Research Partners in Denver to perform an economic impact study regarding the benefits of this line.
Some of the findings were:
• Economic impact during construction of the line in the San Luis Valley counties affected by it (Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla) is $9.5 million including $3 million in payroll for hiring 84 local workers to help with the construction of the line.
• Once the line is in operation, property tax revenue to the counties will be $2.5 million that the utilities will pay to the counties. Broken down, that would be $829,000 to the counties; $1.1 million to the school districts; $424,000 to special districts; and $165,000 to municipalities.
Jones concluded that not only would the line benefit the Valley in terms of reliability, redundancy and renewable energy but also in terms of “very much needed tax revenue at this time in our economic climate.”