Xcel weighs power line options

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— Officials of Xcel Energy said this week their preferred option for bolstering electrical transmission lines into Steamboat Springs is not to build a new substation.

Instead, the utility would prefer to build higher capacity lines on a route that would wrap around the west side of Emerald Mountain and terminate at the existing substation on Steamboat's near west side. One alternative is to route the new 230-kilovolt line along the same path as the existing 230kv line that serves Steamboat.

If Xcel were to build the new substation, which is among eight alternatives it originally identified, it would be located near the intersection of Fish Creek and U.S. 40 between downtown and the mountain. Xcel had an option to purchase the land in the north end of Steamboat Crossing commercial development, but allowed it to expire.

The new substation was the most preferred option of the 60 to 70 people who attended an open house on the matter in December. There was also support for a couple of different routes wrapping west and east of Emerald Mountain.

The new substation would offer the advantage of being able to tap into a major power transmission line owned by a federal agency, the Western Area Power Administration, eliminating the need to build miles of new power line.

Still, the substation would be the more expensive alternative, and Xcel's Mike Diehl said he is persuaded that the advantages of the substation are outweighed by the disadvantages. Diehl and other Xcel representatives plan to meet with the public again in June to see if they can successfully make their case.

"Our challenge is to explain to people that there are a number of factors we have to consider here," Diehl said. "Hopefully, they'll realize we've gone through a credible process."

Xcel still intends to take the power line project through the local planning process.

The new power line would give Steamboat a looped system, providing more reliable backup in case the primary transmission line goes down in the future.

Local rural electrical cooperative Yampa Valley Electric Association has a long-term contract making Xcel its exclusive power vendor. YVEA's Jim Chappell agreed with Diehl that Steamboat needs better redundancy in its system.

Diehl said Steamboat currently relies on the smaller 69kv Mount Harris line as its backup in case the existing 230kv line goes down. That 69kv line used to offer adequate backup, but growth in the community has changed that.

Few people who don't live in the Cow Creek neighborhood along Country Roads 45 and 33 west of Steamboat are even aware of the main power line that delivers power to Steamboat from the Hayden Station coal fired electrical generating plant owned by Xcel. It's a little difficult to pick out of the timber where it comes into Steamboat midway up an east-west lateral ridge of Emerald Mountain.

The visually dominant power lines in Steamboat are the 345kv Hayden-Ault line and the 230kv Hayden-Archer line owned by the Western Area Power Administration. The two lines are strung on large towers that cut directly across Emerald Mountain, across Fish Creek and bisect the Blue Sage neighborhood before heading up to Buffalo Pass, North Park and beyond.

Further west of Steamboat, the 230kv Hayden-Wolcott line heads northeast paralleling the WAPA lines on their way to Steamboat. The Hayden Wolcott line leaves the WAPA line less than a mile before it intersects County Road 45 and heads north, roughly paralleling Cow Creek before turning east and into the Steamboat substation just west of Fairview near the city bus barns.

A new 230KV line could be built on smaller towers paralleling Hayden/Wolcott, Diehl said. Or, new towers capable of carrying both 230kv lines could be built. The existing towers aren't engineered to carry both lines.

The new substation would have allowed the company to tap directly into WAPA's line in order to give Steamboat's electric service better redundancy. The tentative cost of that project would be about $9 million to $11 million, Diehl said. Plus, WAPA wanted to charge Xcel a $500,000 annual fee, and maintain control of some of the key equipment in the substation.

For Diehl, who is Xcel's principal agent for siting and land rights, the real clincher was WAPA's inability to assure him that it could deliver the power to his company for decades into the future. Diehl said city officials told him they didn't want to see Xcel back in 5 or 10 years seeking to build additional power lines. While WAPA offered assurances they have more than ample power supply in their line to meet Steamboat's needs today, they couldn't offer him assurances that would be the case in two decades.

Diehl said the new line into Steamboat would not offer his company financial advantages aside from meeting the community's growing demand for power. His company's goal is to achieve public acceptance while assuring it provides the most reliable long-term looped service possible to YVEA.

Chappell said that the new line would not result in an increase in the cost of electricity for YVEA customers in Steamboat.

"Your rates are not going to go up the day it is built," Chappell said.



To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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