Proposed Xcel station seems to alleviate previous concerns

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News
Special to the Daily/Xcel Energy

The identified site for the Ptarmigan substation – a new Xcel power station meant to serve the Lower Blue River Valley in Summit County – hasn’t seen much pushback yet.

The utility company has been working on a way to service the northern Summit County area for roughly a decade-and-a-half, with plenty of concerns arising along the way, spokesman Mark Stutz said. Current zoning prevents significant development north of Silverthorne, Summit County planning director Jim Curnutte said, which means demands shouldn’t increase dramatically, but the system is already stressed.

The proposed substation is located east (uphill) from Angler Mountain Ranch on the Daley Ranch property, with negotiations commencing.

The site was considered in 2009 and saw some support with some opposition. It was never fully taken off the table, officials said, and now a new property owner is bringing the opportunity back as an option. Area residents opposed in the past to the location haven’t yet made their voices heard now that the Angler Mountain option is being revisited, but Friends of the Lower Blue president Sam Kirk said it would likely be on upcoming agendas.

“It was a legitimate NIMBY (‘not in my backyard’) thing,” Curnutte said. “Nobody wants a big substation literally in their backyard. It boils down to finding a place that has the least impact on surrounding property owners, and I think they’re there. They have a place where it can potentially land and have at least minimal impact of all the previous alternatives.”

Currently, Summit County is served by two substations – one in Frisco and one near Keystone. An express line brings power down the hill as a stop-gap measure to service the area in question until a new substation is built.

Xcel regional vice president Jerome Davis said current energy demands aren’t causing black-outs or brown-outs, but the system’s reliability and redundancy are coming under the gun. The utility is unable to do maintenance on any of the feeders without shutting down a portion of the county. Redundancy would provide another node of power for such work to occur.

In 2010, Davis said the Summit County system would be maxed by fall 2012, but he guesses the downed economy delayed that short-circuit. Should everything go according to plan with the substation, including negotiations with the land owner, construction could begin in spring 2013, and the system could go online by fall 2014, Xcel’s siting and land rights agent Larry Claxton said.

It’s been a long, hard road, Xcel officials agree.

“It has been quite a challenge,” Stutz said. “There have been in the neighborhood of three dozen sites looked at – and in some cases, looked at again.”

Available land in the valley is scarce, and power infrastructure isn’t viewed in the same light as some of the other utilities like roads and bridges, he said.

Pushback comes in many forms, from whether there’s actually a need to technical concerns to aesthetics.

“As we’ve moved forward, we’re taking that information with us,” Davis said, explaining that early designs have him convinced aesthetic concerns have been alleviated. Although, design is in the very preliminary stages, and will likely be adjusted as public meetings commence this summer to gather input from the public.

“You’re not going to get 100 percent consensus there, but you go in trying to preserve and respect what the community feels is important to them,” Davis said, adding that the utility representatives will also tout the benefits: fewest land impacts, fewest environmental impacts, shortest transmission line, good distribution feeder line sites (which will be buried), and the fact that the proposed site can reduce the substation’s visibility.

“At the end of the day, when we put this site in here, we want the residents of Silverthorne to feel very comfortable that when they call on us, we will be there with reliable service when they need,” Davis said.

Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said she couldn’t comment on the proposed project, as the Board of County Commissioners sits as a quasi-judicial, non-biased entity when approving the permits Xcel Energy plans to seek in upcoming months to prepare for construction.

Silverthorne officials are supportive of the site selection and the substation coming to fruition, though they’re not involved from a land and regulation standpoint.

“We are very interested in seeing the electrical reliability upgraded in Silverthorne and the surrounding areas,” Silverthorne town manager Kevin Batchelder said. “Although the site selected is outside of the town limits, we have a vested interest in the construction of a substation that is adequately screened from views in Silverthorne and other adjacent areas.”

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