A look at Xcel's backup plan

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Q. Why does Steamboat need a new backup power line and how

detrimental is it to the community?

A. Yampa Valley Electric Association, a member-owned cooperative, serves nearly 12,000 customers in the Steamboat Springs and surrounding areas from Xcel Energy's Steamboat Springs Substation. The substation is supplied electricity by a Xcel Energy 230-kilovolt electric transmission line from the Wolcott Tap, which is about 14 miles to the southwest of Steamboat Springs. YVEA has a 69-kilovolt transmission line running to the substation from the Mount Harris Substation near the Hayden Power Plant. The 69-kilovolt line is limited to the amount of backup power it can handle. An additional high-voltage transmission supply is needed to provide adequate reliability for the area's electric system. If the existing 230 kV transmission line is damaged by severe weather, the new transmission line or substation will continue to supply power to the area. This means simply that consumers would be without power for a shorter period of time. Without an additional high-voltage source of power, the area is at risk during an outage of the existing 230 kV line. The problems could be prolonged if the outage occurred in the winter, when access to the line is very limited and repair time could be impaired by deep snow conditions.

Q. Xcel has proposed numerous choices on where the line could be located. What are a few determining factors in where the line could be located and is there one choice that is better than the others?

A. First of all, let me note that there is one choice (alternative H) where no new transmission line would be required. But the remainder of the proposals will require a new transmission line to be built. A number of factors involved in Xcel Energy's determining which alternative will be pursued are: environmental; engineering; public acceptability; economic right-of-way; legal and permitting issues. I am pleased that Xcel Energy has collected a great deal of data and the amount of mapping that has taken place. Engineering constraints have generally been identified. The project just entered the public involvement phase of the alternative analysis with last week's public open house. The goal of the public involvement process is to: inform the public; identify public concerns and values; develop a consensus; and develop public ownership in the decision-making process. It has not yet been determined which alternatives are better than others. After the determining factors have been analyzed, a preferred alternative will be identified and communicated to the public and local jurisdictions.

Q. What will the backup power line look like?

A. If the preferred alternative, and ultimately approved alternative is a transmission line, it could look like the existing Xcel Energy 230-kV line on the west and north side of Emerald Mountain. While it is too early in the process to have concrete designs available and an in-depth visual analysis completed, I want to assure everyone that the proposed transmission line will be much shorter and much less conspicuous than the Western Area Power Administration's line that crosses U.S. 40 near Anglers Drive. If the preferred, and ultimately approved, alternative is a substation, no transmission lines will be necessary except short segments to connect the substation with the existing Western Area Power Administration line. It is too early in the process to describe what the substation will also look like. If this alternative is determined most appropriate, design work will begin on the substation and appropriate screening mechanisms. The public will be involved in this process as well.

Q. How much will the backup line cost; who will pay for it; and will rates go up because of it?

A. Xcel Energy has informed me that the cost of alternatives identified range from $6 million to $12 million. Xcel Energy officials explained to me that Xcel's entire rate-paying base would bare the cost of the project. Because YVEA is a Xcel Energy ratepayer, a relatively small incremental amount of the cost may be charged to YVEA's customers, but it is not clear how much, if any. A detailed analysis of the power purchase contract between Xcel Energy and YVEA would have to be performed to determine this. Regardless, rates would not be significantly affected, if at all.

Q. If all goes as planned, when will work begin on the installation of the line and how long will it last?

A. I have been informed by Xcel that if all goes well, permits will be acquired during the summer or fall of 2002, with land rights acquisition beginning shortly thereafter. Construction would begin in the spring of 2003 with an in-service date as early as the fall of 2003. Construction time depends upon the alternative that is chosen.

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