Xcel’s plan for $1.7 billion in transmission in eastern Colorado

by Allen Best

Xcel Energy-Colorado and other utilities propose to build 560 miles of additional 345-kilovolt transmission lines across eastern Colorado in the coming decade to get the wind and other resources they need as they close coal plants and meet expanding demand to displace fossil fuels in transportation and buildings.

The $1.7 billion investment would access 5,500 megawatts of new wind and solar power and energy storage for Xcel. Xcel is calling it Colorado’s Power Pathway.

Xcel hopes to get the first segment in service by 2025 and other segments complete in 2026 and 2027—a herculean task, given the slow pace customary to getting approval for transmission before construction actually begins.

Partnering with Xcel are Colorado’s other major electrical utilities: Tri-State Generation & Transmission, Colorado Springs Utilities Platte River Power Authority, and Black Hills Energy. But Holy Cross Energy, another utility, will also be affected, as it relies upon Xcel’s transmission for delivery to the Aspen-Glenwood Springs-Vail areas.

“Investments in our transmission systems increase grid capacity, strengthen reliability, help us continue our clean energy transition and provide the best possible service for our customers and local communities,” said Alice Jackson, president, Xcel Energy-Colorado. “This new transmission line will support our vision to reduce carbon emissions and deliver 100% carbon-free energy by 2050 and will result in much-needed economic and generation development in the region.”

Tri-State’s participation is contingent on completion of an agreement being worked on. But the agreement in strong enough conceptually that Duane Highley, Tri-State’s chief executive, offered a statement that echoed that of Jackson, but with one small difference. The project would drive investment “in rural communities we serve,” he said. Most of the area of eastern Colorado is served by cooperatives who are members of Tri-State.

In his new book, “How to Avoid Climate Disaster,” Bill Gates likens transmission to freeways and distribution lines to local roads and streets.

The plan envisions five segments that collectively sort of create a box in eastern Colorado. One leg would connect from Fort St. Vain, the gas-powered plant near Greeley, eastward to a new substation near Fort Morgan. This would roughly parallel U.S. Highway 34.

From Fort Morgan and Brush and the Pawnee power plant, which Xcel wants to convert from coal generation to natural gas by 2028, another line would continue eastward to Yuma and then veer south to Burlington and Xcel’s new wind farm at Cheyenne Ridge.

A third segment would continue south along the Kansas border to the vicinity of Lamar. From the Lamar area a fourth leg would then continue north of U.S. Highway 50 and the Arkansas River to the Tundra switching station northeast of Pueblo. The final legal would link Tundra with the Harvest Mile Substation, located southeast of Aurora.

Xcel also identifies a potential transmission line from the Lamar area south to Walsh, which may have Colorado’s very best sustained wind resource. See story, “Windy enough in Dust Bowl land.”

This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at bigpivots.com

The project would yield three new substations, expansion of four existing substations, including one previously planned but not yet in service.

Xcel has filed an application with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for a certificate of public convenience and necessity. Local land-use approvals will also be required.

The release from Xcel made no mention of a major transmission bill introduced in the Colorado Legislature Sen. Chris Hansen and Rep. Alex Valdez, both Democrats from Denver.

SB21-72 seeks to enable Colorado to meet its clean energy goals by creating a new agency, the Colorado electric transmission authority, with the authority to issue revenues bonds and responsibility to identify and establish transmission corridors within Colorado and coordinate with other entities to establish transmission corridors that connected to out-of-state transmission. The bill would also allow additional classes of transmission utilities to obtain revenue through the colocation of broadband facilities within their existing rights-of-way.

It’s not clear how this bill, if made into law, will affect Xcel’s plans for transmission.

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Allen Best