600-megawatt project crosses five eastern Colorado counties
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Friday gave the green light to a settlement Xcel Energy and several other parties reached on the 600-megawatt Rush Creek Wind Project in eastern Colorado.
“I’m very pleased that almost 20 parties could join together and support a comprehensive settlement that significantly increases renewable energy in the state, will be a driver of economic development in rural Colorado, and helps sustain the renewable energy supply chain that has matured in Colorado,” PUC Chairman Joshua Epel said in a statement.
Xcel Energy needed to move forward on Rush Creek, which will be the largest wind project ever in the state, this year instead of next to avoid forfeiting $125 million out of the $443 million in federal tax credits the project is seeking.
Xcel Energy plans to place 300 locally manufactured Vestas wind turbines across 116,000 acres in Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson, and Lincoln counties. A 90-mile transmission line connecting into a substation near Deer Trail in Arapahoe County will bring the power generated into the Front Range.
Rush Creek, which is capped at a cost of $1.1 billion, is expected to eliminate one million tons of carbon emissions a year versus more traditional generation, Xcel Energy said.
Environmental, renewable energy and economic development groups hailed the approval.
“We applaud the PUC for approving this project and continuing to build Colorado’s clean energy leadership,” said Gwen Farnsworth, a senior energy policy advisor with Western Resource Advocates.
Rush Creek marks Xcel Energy’s first big step into owning wind generation, but Farnsworth said independent developers shouldn’t worry about being elbowed out. Rush Creek is coming with transmission capacity to move an additional 1,000 to 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy coming from that part of Colorado.
Progressive 15, an economic development group promoting northeastern Colorado, highlighted the benefits in jobs and incomes for rural Colorado.
“These investments and developments make a real impact to our families, businesses, ranches and farms — wind energy has become an important part of our rural economy,” said Cathy Shull, the group’s executive director.
But the Independence Institute, a critic of the project, notes that Xcel Energy has already met its renewable energy targets and doesn’t need more generation capacity. It also argues regulators are rushing the project through without a detailed analysis of whether ratepayers really will see a benefit.
Xcel Energy expects to start construction on Rush Creek next year with electricity to start flowing in late 2018.