Power route agreed upon

Backup supply will run mostly parallel to existing lines

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— Officials of Xcel Energy say they've reached their final choice for the route of a new electrical power line that would offer much-needed backup for Steamboat Springs' power supply.

For much of its length, the new line would parallel the route of existing lines, including a stretch where it would wrap around the north flank of Emerald Mountain before entering Steamboat Springs and terminating at the substation on Twentymile Road.

Steamboat is currently served by a 230 kilovolt power line, but the backup line carries only 69 kilovolts.

If the main line went down, the 69kv line wouldn't be enough to meet Steamboat's power needs, Xcel's Mike Diehl said.

"In a worst-case scenario, you'd be watching footage on Denver television stations of people being downloaded from ski lifts," Diehl said.

He is the company's principal agent for power line siting and acquisition of land rights.

Diehl said the new power line will do nothing to increase Xcel's capacity to deliver power to markets beyond Steamboat Springs. Its sole purpose is to improve Steamboat's backup power supply.

"We provide Yampa Valley Electric Association with bulk power," Diehl said. "They are the retail seller."

YVEA's Jim Chappell said the new line will not have the net effect of increasing his electrical cooperative's ability to provide electricity to new commercial and residential developments.

"It's not a growth issue," Chappell said. "It's a reliability issue."

Diehl said a newly revised schedule pushed back the date when the new power line will be brought into service by a full year to September 2004.

The delays can be attributed to the time the company has devoted to thoroughly researching alternative routes and educating the public about those alternatives.

"We want to make sure we're doing it right, rather than doing it fast," Diehl said.

Xcel has wrapped up a series of open houses and meetings with landowners. However, the power line must still go through the public process in hearings before both city and county government.

Xcel is applying this week to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for a "certificate of public convenience and necessity." Next month, the company intends to submit documents to the county and city planning departments.

If the government permit process can take place in February and March 2003, Xcel will begin pursuing easements across private land in the spring and summer.

Construction would still not begin until spring 2004. Diehl said the company will arrange appraisals to help determine the value of the easements Xcel is seeking from landowners.

Landowners will have the right to ask for a second appraisal by a firm of their choice and at the company's expense. Of the overall $10 million budget for the new power line, $1.2 million has been planned for easement acquisition, Diehl said. He said between 10 and 16 property owners will be affected.

The new power line would be built on towers that are virtually identical to those of the existing 230kv line, which it would parallel.

The structures are proposed to be wooden H-frame towers, aligned as closely as possible to the existing towers to avoid the appearance of a "picket fence," Diehl said. They will range in height from 60 to 110 feet.

The fact that Xcel's preferred route would travel through scrub oak will minimize visual impact, Diehl said.

The power line can be built without clearing any of the low-growing vegetation, he said.

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