Settlement also advances date Pawnee-Daniels Park transmission line will be functioning
Xcel Energy said Tuesday it has reached a settlement that will speed up the development of a 600-megawatt wind project and the construction of a 125-mile transmission line to move energy to the Front Range from the eastern plains.
The Rush Creek Wind Project, proposed across five eastern Colorado counties, would rank as the state's largest, boosting wind generation capacity by 20 percent. It would also be the first in Colorado entirely owned and operated by Xcel Energy.
As the lowest-cost generation source in the company's Colorado portfolio, Xcel Energy estimates Rush Creek will save ratepayers $400 million over its 25-year life and remove an estimated 1 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year.
"We believe the settlement announced today, if approved, is a no-regrets step towards more renewable energy for Xcel Energy customers and the state of Colorado," David Eves, president of Xcel Energy-Colorado said in a statement.
The settlement between Xcel Energy and multiple parties heads off three days of hearings before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that were set to start Wednesday. Instead, the PUC may use the time slot to discuss the settlement, further speeding things along.
"The PUC has tentatively reserved Sept. 8 to 9 for possible a possible hearing on the settlement," said spokesman Terry Bote. "The commissioners ultimately will determine whether to approve, reject or modify the proposal."
Colorado's largest utility needs to start construction on the $1 billion wind project this year to claim the full $443 million the project is eligible for under federal renewable energy tax credits. If the project starts in 2017, Xcel Energy stands to lose $125 million in credits.
Parties to the Rush Creek settlement include the PUC trial staff; the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel; the Colorado Energy Office; Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association; CF&I Steel/Evraz; Interwest Energy Alliance; Colorado Energy Consumers; Southwest Generation Operating Co.; Western Resource Advocates; the Colorado Independent Energy Association; labor unions; and the cities of Boulder and Denver.
Xcel Energy estimates Rush Creek will contribute 350 jobs to the state. Vestas, a Danish wind turbine manufacturer that employs about 3,600 people in Brighton, Pueblo and Windsor, will provide the equipment for the project, while Invenergy, which maintains a regional office in Littleton, will be the lead developer. Rush Creek also includes a 90-mile long transmission line to feed power into the metro area.
Xcel Energy also reached an agreement to speed up the construction of a 125-mile, double-circuit, 345-kilovolt transmission line from Xcel Energy's Pawnee substation near Brush to its Daniels Park Substation south of the Denver metro area.
The Pawnee-Daniels Park Transmission Project was initially expected to launch in 2022 but could start moving electricity as soon as October 2019 per the settlement. The line, with an estimated cost of about $180 million, goes through Arapahoe and Douglas counties, as well as Aurora and Parker. The utility considers it a critical link in bringing more renewable energy sources into populated areas.
The settlement needs PUC approval, as well as additional local approvals.