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Xcel is out, but transmission line is not

Posted: Wednesday, Nov 2nd, 2011

VALLEY — Xcel’s announcement on Monday to retreat from a new power line into the San Luis Valley does not mean it won’t be built.

“This project was viable and not even contemplated with Xcel when it began,” SLV Rural Electric Cooperative CEO John Villyard said on Tuesday before heading to Denver to meet with Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, of which REC is a member.

“There is no change in our stance and Tri-State will be evaluating where they are at and where to go from there.”

Xcel Energy (Public Service Company of Colorado) on Monday submitted a transmission planning report to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission stating it intended to end its involvement in the proposed San Luis Valley-Calumet- Comanche Project, pending input from the PUC.

“In the meantime, the company will not proceed with additional work and minimize expenditures on this project,” the report stated.

“... there have been significant changes in many of the resource planning assumptions between the filing of our 2007 Electric Resource Plan and our 2011 Electric Resource Plan. These changes call into question our participation in the San Luis Valley-Calumet-Comanche project.”

For example, Xcel referred to a change in its forecasted need for any new generation “in the near term” and the type of generation needed on the system between now and 2018. Solar thermal projects with thermal storage, the projects that formed the foundation for Xcel’s participation in the new transmission line project, “will likely not be a good fit with our resource needs,” the October 31 report stated.

“We now believe that it is very unlikely that our continued participation in the San Luis Valley-Calumet-Comanche project, though recently approved by the Commission, would be in the best interests of our customers. We do not want to impose costs on our customers for what we now believe may be very uncertain benefits.”

Referring to Xcel’s intentions to back away from the proposed transmission line, Villyard said, “It was kind of devastating news but from what I have talked to Tri-State about this morning [Tuesday] and last night the project is still viable. They will just pull back and regroup.”

Villyard said the Valley’s electrical needs still need to be met.

“We still need the power. We were never really concerned about the solar transport. That was Xcel’s thing. What we are interested in is reliability and providing power for future needs in our service territory. Nothing has changed for us.”

He added, “There is no change in our needs. We are just going to wait and see what Tri State does. They will be evaluating the cost of the project coming over La Veta.”

Another reason for the new line is redundancy. Currently all of the power comes into the Valley from one direction, the north. Adding an east-west line would create a loop feed. In 2000, REC began discussions with Tri-State about a new transmission line, especially because of concerns of rolling brownouts when farmers were irrigating in the summer.

REC serves approximately 12,500 meters. Tri-State, REC’s power provider, encompasses 1.5 million members over a four-state region, meaning Tri-State’s involvement in the new line spreads the cost over a larger customer base. If Xcel were to be a partner in the line, which was the belief before Monday, the costs would have been spread even further.

Tri-State and REC began viewing different options more than a decade ago and making improvements to existing infrastructure. They ultimately determined that a new east-west line was needed, according to Villyard.

Villyard concluded on Tuesday, “It’s not off our radar. It may be delayed and it may be working something else out but it won’t be forgotten. I think the big point is we did not go into building this line for the sake of the solar power. That was an offshoot.”

Villyard said Tri-State’s needs for renewable energy have been met already and he did not expect Tri-State to be eager to build a solar plant in the Valley after recently building a very expensive solar plant in New Mexico.

Joel Bladow, Tri-State’s Sr. Vice President of transmission said, “The need for reliable electric service across the San Luis Valley, south central Colorado and northern New Mexico has not changed. Tri-State will examine all options to ensure reliable power for the region, and it is premature to eliminate any options without further investigation.

“Tri-State is committed to serving the power needs of the region. We appreciate the strong support from our member cooperatives and the communities and rural industries across southern Colorado that depend reliable electricity.”

One of the main and most vocal opponents of the new transmission line has been the owner of Trinchera Ranch over which the line would likely cross.

Trinchera’s response to Xcel’s decision to back off from the transmission line was more cautious than celebratory.

“The plan Xcel released yesterday is a significant development. We are analyzing it and need to identify what it means for the proposed transmission project. Most importantly, we want to understand what it means for the San Luis Valley,” said Cody Wertz, Trinchera spokesman.

“Trinchera Ranch remains committed to fighting for a win-win solution for the people of the Valley that helps to improve energy reliability, bolsters renewable energy and conserves and protects this spectacular region of Colorado.”

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