ALAMOSA — With Public Service likely out of the picture but the need remaining for more reliable power in the San Luis Valley, Tri-State Generation is reconsidering its options.
Tri-State, whose cooperative members include San Luis Valley Rural Electric, is inviting the public to provide input on where the company should go from here in providing reliable electricity to area customers.
Tri-State and SLV Rural Electric Cooperative hosted a public meeting Wednesday night in Alamosa to bring area residents up to date on where a new proposed transmission line stands and ask folks how they believe the company should proceed from here.
Tri-State will continue to take comments until May 11 on the options residents believe the company should consider.
To comment email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-254-3396. Also see www.socotransmission.com
Previously, Tri-State and Public Service Company of Colorado planned a new east-west transmission line over La Veta Pass into the San Luis Valley. Last fall Public Service said it wanted to back out of this project because at this point it did not need additional power generated from Valley solar facilities.
For Tri-State the reason for pursuing a new line revolved around reliability, not so much on exporting solar-generated power.
Grant Lehman, project manager for Tri-State Generation, and Sarah Carlisle, public affairs staffer for Tri-State, said Tri-State and consultants are currently conducting studies and reviewing former studies to determine the best option for going forward without Public Service.
Some of those options include connection points other than Walsenburg such as Poncha to the north; Taos-Ojo to the south; and Iron Horse Substation east of Ignacio in the southwest corner of the state.
Tri-State is also reconsidering all types of generation options including solar, geothermal, gas turbines, biomass and others.
Tri-State is a wholesale power provider owned by 44 cooperatives including SLV Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) in the San Luis Valley. Tri-State owns about 5,200 high voltage transmission lines in its four-state network and serves about 1.5 million customers.
SLV REC serves more than 7,100 members in a network of more than 3,100 miles in all six San Luis Valley counties.
Carlisle said in the mid 1990s Tri-State conducted studies identifying reliability concerns with the main 230 kV line crossing Poncha Pass into the Valley, specifically what might happen to the Valley should that line fail.
Carlisle said Tri-State has taken many interim measures such as replacing transformers and installing capacitor banks, but even with those improvements, the company continues to have concerns about reliability.
She and Lehman explained that the back-up line for the 230 kV line is a 115 kV line, but that smaller line has a threshold of 65 megawatts, and the load in the Valley often exceeds that. In 2004, for example, the Valley exceeded that 65-megawatt threshold 20 percent of the time.
Lehman said the peak season for electrical use in the Valley is obviously during the irrigation season, but even the “shoulder” seasons are seeing increased power usage. He contrasted 1997 when the non-irrigation season months averaged around 30 megawatts with 2011 when the shoulder months averaged 50 megawatts, much closer to that 65-megawatt threshold that the backup line could not meet if the main power line over Poncha was lost.
Based on the studies and the need to provide more reliable power, a project was proposed to construct a new 230 kV line from Walsenburg into the San Luis Valley, and in 2008 Tri-State and Public Service signed a memorandum of agreement to pursue this joint project. In May 2009 the companies submitted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) application to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which approved the CPCN in September 2011.
In October 2011 Trinchera, which owns property where the line would cross, filed an appeal to the CPCN in both Denver and Costilla County, and that appeal is pending.
Also in October of last year Public Service announced it would likely end its involvement in the project. PUC must agree with Public Service before their involvement is officially ended, however, and that has not yet occurred. Lehman said that could come by the end of this year.
“The reliability need still exists for Tri-State,” Lehman said.
SLV REC CEO Loren Howard said REC takes great pride in the service it provides its customers, and for most of those customers, reliability is the most important factor.
“Your life really does stop when the electricity goes off, for most people,” he said.
Citizens question, comment
Several audience members shared questions and comments during Wednesday’s public meeting including:
• Jeanna Paluzzi talked about the amount of irrigated acres that are coming out of production through groundwater management sub-districts but added it appears the demand for electricity is growing regardless of the decreased agricultural production.
• Claire Barker, a member of TLC (Transmission Line Coalition), said although she was not advocating doing away with the utility companies, she was seeing a shift in the Valley to more regional autonomy. She indicated a desire to see more counties besides Alamosa and Saguache benefiting economically from new solar projects and suggested the new solar projects could assist in meeting energy needs in the Valley.
• Charlie Spielman, president of the Monte Vista Economic Development Corporation, supported the development of solar projects that use very little water. He said in reviewing generation options he hoped Tri-State would only consider thermal electric processes that use minimal water.
• Sally Keller, TLC member and Costilla County homeowner, asked about funding for a new line and if it would be as expensive without Public Service. Lehman said the cost is one of the factors Tri-State is currently studying. He said federal funding would still likely be sought for the project, with or without Public Service. Federal funding would kick in the National Environmental Policy Act, requiring public hearings.
Keller also asked how often the Valley had experienced major outages. Lehman said at least three major outages have occurred in the last 15 years, one in 1998, one in 2002 and one in 2003.
• Adam Green, representing SolarReserve, a recently approved solar project in Saguache County, asked if job and water impacts would be taken into consideration when reviewing options. Lehman said the focus is on reliability and cost, but anyone who wanted to make sure other items are considered should submit written comments.
• Judy Lopez, an Alamosa County landowner, suggested the new SolarReserve project could solve the reliability issues. She added that even with a new transmission line, reliability issues could still arise, because no electrical generation system is completely fail proof. She recommended that Tri-State consider the amount of land that will be fallowed through the sub-districts, as much as 80,000 acres throughout the Valley. A good portion of that will be within REC’s area, she said.
Lopez said Tri-State needs to also consider the effects on southern Colorado and northern New Mexico of using the Taos connection point.
• Bob Keller, TLC member and retired CSU educator, said he would appreciate load forecast information being made public so he could make comments on a knowledgeable and informed basis. Lehman said there is ongoing litigation with Trinchera Ranch over that issue. He and Carlisle said the studies being conducted now regarding Tri-State’s options for moving forward would be available on its website.
• Chris Canaly, SLV Ecosystem Council, Ceal Smith, director of SLV Renewable Communities Alliance and Andrea Guajardo with Conejos County Clean Water, Inc., asked Tri-State to extend its comment deadline beyond May 4 so they and others would have more time to provide thoughtful and informed input.
Carlisle said, “This is not the only opportunity you will be given to provide input. This is the first blush of studies for a Tri-State only project.”
Tri-State has extended the time period to May 11.
• Loretta Mitson said Tri-State needs to take input not just from San Luis Valley residents but people in northern New Mexico who could be affected by a transmission point there.
Cody Wertz, spokesman for Trinchera Ranch, on Thursday responded to the Tri-State meeting by saying he was encouraged Tri-State is looking at alternatives other than La Veta Pass and methods other than traditional generation.
“We remain committed to protecting La Veta Pass and this pristine corridor,” he said, “but we understand the need to improve reliability and hopefully add some kind of economic development ... There’s a way we can do all those things. It still can be a win-win.”