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Transmission line project enters a period of confusion

by Bill Knowles

WALSENBURG- A condition placed on the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), calling for Xcel Energy’s transmission line  project to carry at least 700 megawatts (MW) of solar power is causing Xcel Energy to seek a delay in the project until at least 2016.

    The condition, proposed by Administrative Law Judge Mana Jennings-Fader in a recommended ruling last month, calls for a 50 percent refund of any revenue made from the proposed power line if it fails to connect 700 MW of solar generation in ten years.  That amount of generation would be just under half the capacity of the utility′s Comanche station in Pueblo.

    Just before Thanksgiving, in a move that puts the 700 MW of solar power in question, Xcel filed an Amended Resource Plan with the Public Utilities Commission calling for a reduction in planned solar power from 355 MW to 60 MW.

    Xcel Energy’s move away from the massive solar arrays that have been proposed for the San Luis Valley began to surface during a PUC hearing on July 26, 2010 where Xcel Energy’s Vice President of Rates and Regulatory Affairs Karen Hyde, under oath, stated that the three 250 MW solar thermal arrays proposed for the San Luis Valley were not necessary in order for Public Service Company to meet the 30 percent renewable energy standard required in 2020 by the state and federal government, according to the court transcripts.

    The 60 MW figure as an option was highlighted in the amended resource plan.  “Delay the acquisition of additional solar resources above the 60 MW of solar PV currently under contract until the Phase II acquisition process that will result from the 2011 Resource Plan filing.”  Dropping the amount of solar energy generated in the valley puts the transmission line project, the part that is planned to come over La Veta Pass, in question.

    The amended resource plan called for 921 MW of gas-fired resources, 701 MW of wind resources with at least 200 MW of the 701 MW wind resource being generated by E.ON, 250 MW of solar thermal with thermal storage resources and 105 MW of photovoltaic resources.

     E.ON Climate and Renewables has offered to build the Calumet to Comanche leg of the project and pay for it out of pocket but the Xcel Energy CPCN puts the entire project under one application and E.ON’s offer isn’t being considered by Xcel Energy. 

    “Xcel, the Public Service Company, and Tri-State want to put all the burden for this project on the rate payers and none on the stock holders,” remarked Cody Wertz, the spokesperson for Trinchera Ranch, which opposes the proposed route for the transmission line.   

    On Monday morning, Dec. 20, the PUC held a hearing that concerned itself with a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request filed by Cody Wertz in November.  The request should have been honored by the PUC no later then the first of December.  The delay of the hearing and the lack of a decision by the PUC has produced additional confusion surrounding the SOCO Transmission Line Project.