Colo. ranch owner cries foul in power line project
Associated Press Writer
DENVER – A billionaire who objects to a proposed power line crossing his ranch in south-central Colorado says the utilities behind the project have illegally met separately with state regulators who will decide whether to approve it.
Hedge-fund manager Louis Bacon, who owns the 171,000-acre Trinchera Ranch, is asking the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to dismiss the applications for the transmission line or that the commissioners who talked to utility officials recuse themselves from voting on the issue.
An administrative law judge will preside over hearings starting Monday on Trinchera’s request and whether there is a need for the 140-mile, $180 million power line proposed by Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
The commission will decide both matters. A comprehensive environmental analysis also has to be written before a line can be built.
Xcel Energy and Tri-State officials deny doing anything improper and contend Trinchera is trying to divert attention from the merits of the project.
“We believe it is an attempt by Trinchera to avoid defending its own proposals, which Xcel Energy believes would be more costly, not as reliable and of greater impact to many more citizens of Colorado,” Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said.
The utilities say the power line will provide more reliable electricity for the San Luis Valley, about 230 miles southwest of Denver, and a way to transmit renewable energy from the area, which has high potential for solar power. Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest provider of electricity, buys power from a SunEdison solar plant in the valley.
Xcel Energy will file a response Friday to the motion to dismiss the transmission line application, Stutz said
Trinchera Ranch spokesman Cody Wertz said Thursday that Bacon doesn’t oppose building a transmission line but believes there is a better route that would be less expensive and deliver more power.
Trinchera Ranch also believes Tri-State and Xcel Energy officials have discussed central issues in the case with commission members and staff in violation of state law and regulations, according to the motion to dismiss the utilities’ application. Discussions excluding Trinchera “violate due process and deny parties their right to a fair hearing, and so are widely prohibited.”
Tri-State spokesman Jim Van Someren said the power supplier has fully complied with state laws and utilities commission rules and orders.
Colorado-based Tri-State, which serves rural electric cooperatives in four states, and Xcel Energy want to build the line from east to west across southern Colorado.
Farmers and ranchers who say they need more reliable sources of electricity and renewable energy are among the supporters.
Some conservation groups, though, oppose the proposed route because it would cross undeveloped mountains and valleys. A column by Colorado nature photographer John Fielder earlier this month warned that the project would “carve up Trinchera Ranch’s undeveloped wildlife habitat and the San Luis Valley’s greatest view shed.”
The power line would cross parts of Trinchera Ranch, which Bacon bought from businessman and publisher Steve Forbes. In 2007, Forbes said he sold the ranch to Bacon because he had a good record on conservation.
Trinchera Ranch has proposed an alternate route running north along existing lines.
Stutz of Xcel Energy said Tri-State has studied possible routes in the San Luis Valley for years and believes the one chosen by the two utilities is the best. He said Trinchera’s alternative would add up to 125 miles to the line and tens of millions of dollars to the cost.
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