State regulators gave preliminary approval on Friday to a controversial power line in southern Colorado, but opponents vowed to continue fighting.
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission gave the green light to a 150-mile, $180 million transmission line that is slated to carry solar and wind energy from the San Luis Valley over La Veta Pass to the Front Range.
The line would cross the Trinchera Ranch, a 171,400-acre property owned by investor Louis Bacon, who opposes the project.
The PUC did not adopt a condition, recommended by an administrative law judge in November, calling for a refund to ratepayers by Xcel Energy if the line does not carry 700 megawatts of new generation 10 years after completion.
The judge recommended that Xcel refund 50 percent of its investment in the line. The cost is being split by Xcel and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
Xcel, the corporate parent of Public Service Co. of Colorado, threatened to pull out of the project if the condition remained.
“We’re pleased with the decision,” said Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz. “We think that placing a condition on this project with respect to what might transpire in 15 years is bad policy.”
Trinchera Ranch will fight
A Trinchera spokesman said the PUC’s removal of the minimum-transmission condition, which went against the legal and policy recommendations of its staff, will hurt ratepayers.
“The fight will go on,” Cody Wertz said. “We think there are better alternatives out there that not only accomplish the utility’s goals but protect ratepayers and protect a pristine corridor.”
Trinchera can file an appeal of the ruling to the commission, and then appeal it in court, PUC spokesman Terry Bote said.
Trinchera will continue fighting the project as it goes through the federal environmental-impact process, Wertz said.
The ranch also will challenge Xcel and partner Tri-State Generation in their local approvals process, he said.
PUC: It’s our job, not Xcel’s
PUC chairman Ron Binz and commissioner Matt Baker said it was their job, not Xcel’s, to determine if the need for new electricity transmission exists.
“It’s hard to vote against what some call consumer protection, but this isn’t consumer protection,” Binz said. “It’s a backstop for a regulatory agency that’s unsure what it’s doing.”
Commissioner James Tarpey has recused himself from the case because he had discussions with utility executives about transmission issues.
The proposed project involves construction of three high-voltage transmission lines that would connect electrical substations from north of Alamosa to Pueblo. The project also includes a new substation near Walsenburg.
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