Yampa Valley growth sparks electricity concerns | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley growth sparks electricity concerns

Kristi Mohrbacher

Yampa Valley Electric Association officials say the company has no problems handling the current electricity load for consumers.

— Projected growth in the Yampa Valley and across the Western Slope could strain local electricity infrastructure in the not-so-distant future.

Yampa Valley Electric Association officials long have been concerned about the impacts of regional development and energy exploration on the association’s capacity. That concern continues to grow as more subdivisions and developments are planned in Routt County – and as natural gas and oil exploration booms to the west and south.

YVEA spokesman Jim Chappell said Thursday that although YVEA has no problems handling the current load for consumers, it’s the future he’s worried about.

YVEA provides more than 25,000 consumers with electricity. During off-peak times – in the afternoon and middle of the night – the load is about 45 megawatts. YVEA can handle up to about 125 megawatts during peak times. One megawatt serves 850 to 1,000 families.

“We know it’s going to grow,” Larry Covillo, YVEA president and general manager, said of potential electricity demand. “We’re not sure where the resources are going to come from in the future.”

Covillo said there are a number of reasons why electricity demands might increase in coming years.

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“Oil and natural gas compression could be a huge load for us in the future,” he said. According to the 2008 Northwest Colorado Socioeconomic Analysis and Forecasts, a report for the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, natural gas development is projected to move north into Moffat County.

“We know there are two major pipelines that were installed through Moffat County from Rifle to, roughly, Rock Springs” Wyo., Covillo said. Those pipelines will need one – if not two -compression stations for a potential of 80 to 120 megawatts in YVEA’s service area.

Power to the people

Closer to home, several large projects awaiting approval from the city of Steamboat Springs could add to electricity demands.

Steamboat 700 proposes about 2,000 residential units and additional square footage for commercial space on a site west of Steamboat. If Steamboat 700 is approved and annexed into the city, the project’s initial submittal states that a substation would need to be built near the development. Covillo estimates the neighborhood would need about 15 megawatts.

360 Village, a proposed development west of Steamboat 700, would need about four megawatts to meet electricity demands, Covillo said.

To the east, numerous projects are under way at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. Covillo said he expects the finished buildings – including One Steamboat Place and an overhauled Ski Time Square – to roughly double electricity demands to the area.

YVEA’s number of customers increases by about 2 percent to 2.5 percent a year. Chappell said YVEA expects to add the same amount of new consumers next year.

Higher demand for electricity means more substations and transmission lines in Steamboat, said Chappell, and nobody wants them in their backyard. Higher demand also means higher wholesale costs for YVEA and eventually, higher prices for consumers, Covillo said.

“We don’t anticipate that YVEA’s expenses are going to increase dramatically,” Covillo said. “We certainly expect our wholesale power costs to increase, and that will be more the driver of what rates do.”

Surging costs

Xcel Energy, the wholesale supplier for YVEA, increased its rates by $1.25 million earlier this year. YVEA absorbed the cost instead of passing it on to consumers, Chappell said – but in 2010, Xcel is expected to raise rates again after completion of a $1 billion expansion of Xcel’s Comanche Station power plant in Pueblo. The new, 750-megawatt, coal-fired plant dubbed Comanche 3 is expected to begin generating power in 2009.

“Twenty percent of our customers already have difficulty paying their bills,” said Chappell.

LIFT-UP of Routt County, a local nonprofit organization that helps customers who are struggling to pay utility bills, has assisted 71 people in 2008 for a total of $14,005, according to Pam Graham, food bank and case manager.

Unknown factors could also reduce costs in the future, Covillo said. He mentioned the possibility of renewable resources such as wind and solar energy becoming more economic through better technologies. Carbon capture and reduction methods also are being explored, Covillo said.

Interest in nuclear energy is increasing across the nation as major energy providers, including Xcel, and members of Congress allow the topic back to the table for evaluation.

Further down the road, it’s about legislation, Covillo said. There are bills waiting to be passed in Congress that will affect prices in 2020 and 2030. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Bill, for example, involves a carbon tax on emissions above a certain level.

Chappell said overall, “the outlook in the industry is guarded: but optimistic.”

Guarded because nobody knows what will happen next but optimistic because there are a lot of opportunities out there, he said.

If you go

What: Yampa Valley Electric Association annual meeting

When: 10 a.m. Saturday

Where: Moffat County High School, 900 Finley Lane, Craig

By the numbers

YVEA in 2007

– 25,410: Average number of

customers

– 15: Average outage minutes per customer per month

– 442: Miles of transmission lines patrolled

– 20: Miles of line built

– 2,465: Number of poles inspected

Source: YVEA Web site, http://www.yvea.com