Sunday, October 9, 2011

Task Force Considers Streamlining Transmission in Colorado

Oct 13th UPDATE: The deadline for comment has been extended into November!

SB-45 is a bad idea that gives political cover to those who wish to undermine local control and democracy in Colorado. If the Task Force for Steamlining Siting of Transmission Facilities has its way, Colorado ratepayers will get artificially high electricity rates and a path dependency on old style remote, monopoly-controlled renewable generation. This could diminish opportunities to generate sun and wind energy in their own communities where it creates the most benefit for the least cost.    

New transmission lines cost ratepayers billions of dollars while ensuring Investor Owned Utilities 100% cost recovery and high rates (10-17%) of return on investment.

As such, utility policy in Colorado has created perverse incentives for unnecessary new high voltage transmission while ignoring cheaper, smarter and less environmentally destructive alternatives like distributed generation on existing (easily upgraded) transmission lines.

Little known to most, the Task Force for Streamlining Siting of Transmission Facilities authorized by SB 11-045 earlier this year (see below), has convened several meetings this fall.   While the legislation requires the Task Force to consider public input, that input has been limited to a very few people who are aware of and able to attend the Denver and Pueblo meetings.
 The pubic has not been well informed of the existence or purpose of the Task Force or why the outcome of these meetings is important.  You can learn more by reviewing the meeting agendas and web casts available on the CPUC Task Force websiteIf you don't have time to review the documents yourself, check back in a few days for a summary of the meetings and some suggested talking point.

We just learned that the public comment period has been extended into November and that the Counties, who are generally opposed to having their powers stripped away, will be presenting their concerns at the next meeting on Oct 19th.

More details coming soon.  In the mean time, comments can be submitted to:

SB11-45TaskforceComments@dora.state.co.us 

Previous coverage on SB 45 on this blog....

Mar 15, 2010 update: 

Colorado Energy News - Who Will Have 'Power' Over Colorado's Power Transmission?

Gail Schwartz says "this bill is not intended to diminish local authority or input from the siting process", yet by giving task force decision-making powers to only 2 out of 64 counties and no public representation at all, how can it not have that effect?

The GEO Strategic Transmission and Renewables (STAR) Report (page 58), targets Trinchera Ranch and Louis Bacon ("an out-of-state billionaire") as the primary obstacle to new transmission in the San Luis Valley.

This analysis dismisses growing concern that the over-emphasis on absentee industrial solar generation in the rural San Luis Valley, will:
  • increase the cost of renewable energy for taxpayers and consumers
  • increase our energy CO2 footprint, and 
  • unfairly constrain solar energy development in other parts of the state. 
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Colorado counties could be stripped of their power to decide about siting transmission lines, if the utilities have their way in the Senate this week.

Senate Bill 11-045, "concerning a streamlined process for securing governmental approval for the siting of electric transmission facilities", pretty much says it all.

Initially, the bill established a Transmission Siting Commission to replace the "1041" land use permitting process adopted by many counties for siting transmission in Colorado.  When Colorado Counties, Inc. balked, backers of the bill (with guidance from Xcel and TriState) quickly amended it to create a task force to "study" the idea.

The 16-member task force would be funded by and comprised mostly of industry and municipal interests and political appointees.  It's task is to "take testimony" through a series of public meetings on the "siting of electric transmission facilities", and report back to the Governor by the end of the year before authorizing the Commission.

Only two of the sixteen member task force would represent Colorado's 64 Counties.

Such narrow representation would effectively silence the voices of rural Colorado and local community groups and ratepayers, who would foot the bill for transmission decisions the Commission could make, should it be approved. 

Simply put; this bill ultimately seeks to disenfranchise people and local communities in Colorado from having a say in siting new transmission.

The bill was approved by a 7 to 1 vote in the Senate Agricultural Committee last week, including a thumbs up from Committee Chair, Gail Schwartz who represents the San Luis Valley.  The Valley is at the epicenter of Xcel and TriState's hotly contested SoCo transmission line, recently approved by the Public Utilities Commission.

The bill sets the stage for authorizing an undemocratic, industry dominated Transmission Siting Commission during the 2012 legislative session. If appointed, such a Commission could effectively push aside rising public opposition to costly new transmission and large-scale solar industrialization of the San Luis Valley.

SB-45 is a bad idea that gives political cover to those who wish to undermine local control and democracy in Colorado. If the Task Force for Steamlining Siting of Transmission Facilities has its way, Colorado ratepayers will get artificially high electricity rates and a path dependency on old style remote, monopoly-controlled renewable generation. This could diminish opportunities to generate sun and wind energy in their own communities where it creates the most benefit for the least cost.