Xcel Energy responds to transmission pole debate
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Xcel Energy, which continues to operate in the state as Public Service Company of Colorado, read with interest the recent coverage and an editorial regarding the Glenwood Springs City Council’s decision on company-owned transmission structures on the north side of Glenwood Springs. As this issue continues to be discussed, we would like to point out a few facts that we believe are critical to the debate.
We would first note that contrary to the news coverage, the City Council did not order Xcel Energy to take down a 100-foot transmission pole. City Council in fact reversed the approval of a special use permit approved by the Glenwood Springs Planning and Zoning Commission (which is detailed below). The council required Xcel Energy to submit a new special use permit application and provide new alternatives with a more aesthetically acceptable configuration.
Xcel Energy appreciates that the City Council is concerned about preserving the city’s view sheds. The fact is, however, that the transmission pole exists today to support the redesign and rebuild of a city-owned electrical substation. The Glenwood Springs Electric Department’s decision that an upgrade was needed for its substation – completed in October 2010 – necessitated realignment of the related Xcel Energy transmission system in a different location on the property.
Part of the debate around the subject transmission tower has been the permitting issue, and the fact that Xcel Energy did not secure a permit prior to construction. Xcel Energy worked with city staff for approximately two years designing this project. At no time did the city ever suggest, until after the fact, that Xcel Energy needed permits and a formal review process to do its work.
In fact, the city utility department also did not secure permits or formal reviews for the upgrade of the aforementioned city-owned substation, and Xcel Energy felt it was being treated similarly.
Xcel Energy will be the first to admit, in hindsight, that the question of permits should have been fully vetted. Failure to do so was a mistake. But it would be incorrect to suggest anything but the fact that Xcel Energy worked with the city’s utility department and planning commission to correct this permitting situation.
Once construction started on the structures and became the subject of the current debate, Xcel Energy committed to and provided four alternatives to the current configuration to planning staff. We essentially submitted an application for a special use permit to have the current structure properly permitted, but we also provided alternatives for the planning commissions review.
Of the four alternatives presented in the presentation for special use permit, the planning commission determined the current alignment was the best alternative, after it thoroughly reviewed and applied the required criteria. The planning department did its homework, spoke to residents and other interested parties, and prepared a supporting report on its findings. Only after this robust discussion about the alternatives and criteria did the planning commission ultimately approve the Special Use Permit.
Unfortunately, the City Council several weeks ago chose only to feign shock and disgust at the actions of Xcel Energy, and mischaracterized the underlying reason for Xcel Energy’s failure to secure the permit prior to construction.
It must be clearly understood that because of the new substation design, we can never go back to the old configuration. Sometimes the reality is that the provision of safe and reliable electricity service to our customers is of equal importance to the community, and that in some cases there may not be an aesthetically appealing alternative.
The only way, however, that the entire power delivery structure will be reviewed is if the city utility department is similarly required to submit an after-the-fact special use permit application for the substation. Perhaps then screening alternatives will be imposed on the city itself, and the substation and transmission structures will not draw the level of visual attention they currently demand.
Xcel Energy will continue to work on ways to resolve this issue. We have been a part of Glenwood Springs for as long as any entity in town. Our employees live and work in Glenwood Springs and surrounding communities. We only ask that everyone understand how it is that we arrived at this place and time, and we welcome input on how to best achieve our mutual goals.
Fred Eggleston is the Western Slope Area Manager for Community and Local Government Affairs for Xcel Energy.
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