Huerfano′s energy future
by Susan Simons
HUERFANO- Tri-State Generation and Transmission and Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo), an Excel Energy company, are proposing to build a 230 volt double-circuit transmission line from Walsenburg to Alamosa. The proposed project will bring more energy into the San Luis Valley, add to the reliability of the delivery system, and provide a corridor for delivery of power produced by renewable energy projects in southern Colorado.
On Wed. Aug. 19, Tri-State, PSCo, and United States Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service (RUS) will hold public meetings at the Gardner Community Center from 9-11am and at the Huerfano County community center in Walsenburg from 4-7 pm to get public input on the location of the transmission lines and to give the public more information about the permitting process, including easements.
The power line will connect two substations: a Calumet switching station to be built six miles north of Walsenburg at Red Rocks Road and the San Luis Valley substation north of Alamosa near Mosca. The Calumet station will be connected to the Walsenburg substation, and, eventually, a line will run from Calumet to the Comanche Substation in Pueblo.
Tri-State has asked for funding from RUS which awards loans to rural cooperatives and utilities to upgrade transmission lines and fund improvements to systems. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said on June 4, "Rural communities need affordable up-to-date electric service in order to broaden economic opportunities.” As funding agency, RUS will be the lead agency, and the public meetings will kick off the federal environmental review process.
The utilities will need land-use approvals from four counties and will also have to meet state and federal requirements before they can begin the project. The cost is estimated at 180 million with a completion date sometime in 2014.
Among the proposed routes are a route north of Highway 69 and a route along CR 521 and CR 520. Trinchera Ranch on the west side of La Veta Pass and Oxy USA, which extracts carbon dioxide in Huerfano County near Sheep Mountain for use in natural gas drilling, have filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to oppose routing the transmission line through their property. Majors Ranch, with many residential properties located along CR 521 and CR 520, has also filed to oppose a route through the Ranch.
What does the proposed transmission line suggest for the energy future of Huerfano County and how might Tri-State be involved in that future?
Huerfano County stands to benefit from the construction of this transmission line. There are already several projects in the county in various stages of development designed to harvest wind energy. To date, Pole Canyon Wind Farm has completed the approval process at the county level and Silver Mountain Wind Farm has begun the approval process.
Tri-State could do much more to encourage the county’s wind farm projects. For example, according to Pole Canyon spokesman David Hettich, Pole Canyon has already secured 95% of the necessary easements for a transmission line between the Calumet Substation and the Comanche Substation in Pueblo. However, Tri-State has not been willing to enter into conversation with Pole Canyon about a joint effort which would help landowners and speed up the process.
Tri-State could also adopt policies which would reward San Isabel Electric Association as well as San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative and the 42 other co-ops which buy power from Tri-State for local research and development of wind, solar, geo-thermal, and other renewable energy sources. A new Colorado law requires that rural electric cooperatives generate ten percent of their power from renewables by 2020, and all local projects should be encouraged.
It is inevitable that this new power corridor be built. It is likely that Huerfano County will benefit. What is not certain is the location of the transmission line. Steps have been taken to protest routing the line through residential property, through wildlife corridors, and through commercial property. There are also county, state, and federal requirements which must be satisfied.
The public meeting August 19 is a forum where citizens can learn more and give their views. Huerfano County has been an energy resource for the state in the past and can be one in the future, despite the difficult decisions which must be made at all levels to move this project forward responsibly. Tri-State will continue to be a force in the energy future of Huerfano County, and the construction of this transmission line may signal a welcome shift in attitude toward increased support for, and development of, renewable energy locally.