Xcel Energy, in a race to save $443 million on a proposed $1 billion wind farm, convinced the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to squeeze its hearing into three days in September, sparking a rush of more than 20 parties trying to intervene in the case.
The interveners, PUC chairman Joshua Epel said again and again, will need to be disciplined if there is any hope of fitting everything into the expedited hearing about the Rush Creek wind farm project set for Sept. 7-9.
“I’m leery that we can actually get this done in three days,” Epel said Wednesday during a meeting to approve the list of interveners and set procedures for the hearing.
The commission previously approved a sped up hearing so it could reach a final decision by Nov. 1. If it doesn’t, then $125 million in tax credits will be at stake.
Although the Omnibus Appropriations Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in December, extended tax credits for renewable energy products for five years, breaks will start to decline Jan. 1.
Rules around the tax credits require Xcel to begin construction by the end of the year and that Rush Creek be in service by the end of 2020. Xcel hopes to have the wind farm and its transmission line running by Oct. 31, 2018.
That would save Xcel $443 million, savings the utility says would be passed on to its customers, according to May 13 testimony by Xcel regional vice president Alice Jackson. But if the commission doesn’t make a decision before Nov. 1, Xcel could miss its deadline and lose $125 million in savings.
Other commissioners shared Epel’s concern for time, stating the need for “guard rails” on the more than 20 interveners so they stay on topic and avoid redundancies.
“I’m not going to be tolerant of sand thrown into the gears,” commissioner Glenn Vaad said as the panel considered a request from the Coalition of Ratepayers that included concerns about animals.
The commissioners also are worried about the large number of local governments that must sign off on the plan.
The Rush Creek Wind Project would cross 96,200 acres in six eastern plains counties and generate 600 MW of power. The project also requires a 150-foot-wide right of way for a 90-miles transmission line.
The plant would be the largest wind farm in Colorado, increasing the state’s current wind capacity by 20 percent.
Rush Creek is the first wind facility Xcel would build, own and operate. It’s being outfitted with turbines manufactured in Colorado by Vestas. Xcel projected that the farm would save customers $400 million in power supply costs based on present values.
Although the utility has already met its state renewable energy requirements, an Xcel spokesman said the law also states that if the utility can continue to pursue renewable sources, then it should.
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