Boulder has joined more than a dozen other agencies and government bodies in filing a petition to intervene in the application Xcel Energy filed three weeks ago seeking approval on $1 billion wind farm.
The Rush Creek Wind Project would cover 90,000 acres in Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson and Lincoln counties and would be among the state’s largest wind-based producers of electricity, generating enough to power about 180,000 homes.
The go-ahead for such a project would come from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, the same regulatory authority presiding over Boulder’s ongoing attempt to separate from Xcel and former a municipal electric utility.
It is not unexpected for Boulder to want involvement in this, as it’s a situation in which a utility seeks to purchase a generation asset – the sort of case the city has traditionally intervened in.
Spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said Wednesday that Boulder’s primary contention is that Xcel filed the wind farm application more than two weeks before filing its electric resources plan (ERP), which projects what facilities it will need in order to serve its customers.
On Friday, four days before Xcel filed that plan, Boulder filed its petition to intervene and stated, “in recent filings, (Xcel) is showing no need for additional resources until 2022.”
“We’re not even actually opposing the wind agreement they’re asking for,” Huntley added. “We want to intervene because we have concerns about the process itself.
“Our issue is that we think that this proposal should be evaluated in the context of the ERP … and the only linkage to municipalization we’re making is that the amount of energy they need to be able to provide could change if the city is no longer drawing our energy from them.”
City wants a say
If Boulder is granted intervener status, the city would essentially win a voice during evidentiary hearings on the matter, which are expected to run until early next year, at the latest. Boulder would have the right to cross-examine witnesses and conduct discovery with other parties – a privilege that many others also seek in this case.
To achieve that, the city must prove it has a financial stake in the outcome.
“If Xcel Energy owns this wind farm, they get to charge a 10 percent return on investment,” Huntley said, “and they charge it back to ratepayers. If they own this facility, there will be an impact on rates that all customers share,” including Boulder’s – particularly if the city’s bid to municipalize fails.
The other prospective interveners include the city and county of Denver, Interwest Energy Alliance and four electric associations – Intermountain Rural, Yampa Valley, Holy Cross Energy and Grand Valley Power – jointly filing. The PUC staff, which can intervene by right and has a trial staff that does so in most cases, is also on the list, as are at least five others.
“In these recent Xcel Energy cases, we routinely have interveners in the double digits,” Bote said. “For the last several years, we’ve been seeing more and more intervention.”
Wednesday was the final day to file a petition to intervene. Xcel’s response to the petitions is due June 8, and the commission is likely to deliberate the issue at its weekly meeting June 15, PUC spokesman Terry Bote said.
‘Hold on a minute’
Xcel, in a company statement, said that Boulder’s filing “is not a surprise.”
“We appreciate the city’s acknowledgement of Xcel Energy’s efforts to incorporate more renewable energy into our system and, in addition, have letters of support for the project from the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, Boulder Tomorrow, the Superior Chamber of Commerce and the Longmont Economic Development Project,” the statement reads.
Huntley said the city has not yet taken a formal position on the wind farm project.
“We haven’t decided,” she said. “We’re just saying, ‘Hold on a minute.’ It doesn’t make sense that they’re filing this as a separate proceeding 18 days before they knew they’d be filing a new ERP.
“We want a chance to intervene because we want to make sure that this decision is made both in context of their larger ERP and with an understanding that demand for Xcel Energy could go down if we end up creating the utility and we don’t want to purchase as much from them.”
Meanwhile, Boulder remains in the midst of evaluation of data Xcel gave the city May 19 as part of a discovery process allowed by the PUC after it ruled in November that Boulder can’t acquire Xcel facilities that exclusively serve customers outside city limits.
City officials had said prior to that data transfer that it had the potential to inform a staff recommendation of abandoning the push for a municipal utility. Huntley said Wednesday, though, that Boulder remains “very confident” it won’t take an off-ramp, and expects to file a supplemental application to the commission this summer.
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