Monday, August 22, 2011

SB11-045: First Meeting of the Colorado Transmission Siting Task Force

In Colorado, siting for transmission facilities is decentralized. Under the current system, all transmission lines require local government permits.  The process however, can vary from county to county which is only one of many challenges that can delay a project.  In recognition of the need for transmission development in the state, the Senate passed SB11-045 directing formation of a task force to study barriers to transmission siting and permitting in the state.  The task force is comprised of 17 members representing different stakeholder groups with an interest in the siting and permitting process for transmission in Colorado. The first meeting of the transmission task force pursuant to SB 11-045 was held on Thursday, August 19th at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (the "Commission") and Chaired by Commissioner Tarpey.

1041 permitting at the county level for transmission lines arose out of the Areas and Activities of State Interest Act (“AASIA”).  In 1974, the AASIA was introduced in the General Assembly as HB 1041 to “encourage” local governments to designate certain geographic areas and specified activities as matters of state interest.  Under the AASIA, among other things, counties can designate construction of major facilities of a public utility as activities of state interest.  Once a county makes a designation under AASIA, the county must develop guidelines or “1041” regulations to control development of land resources within the designated area or that area affected by the designated activity. Prospective developers then must apply to the local government for a permit in order to develop in these designated areas.

Alamosa County adopted 1041 regulations in 2009 and Juan Altamirano, Community Coordinator that oversees all 1041 regulations for the Alamosa County Planning Department, provided an overview of the regulations that govern utility infrastructure projects in Alamosa County.  Mr. Altamirano noted that projects are generally approved within 3-6 months.  To save time up-front, the Alamosa regulations require submittal of a preliminary application to assess general feasibility and identify any major problems and issues in order to direct data gathering to accompany the final application. The regulations further provide for significant interaction between the permitting authority and the applicant under predefined timelines.  The purpose of the meetings and timelines are to determine submission requirements for the final application and to ensure targeted data collection for the final application.  The largest CPV solar project in the world and the San Luis – Calumet – Comanche line both touch Alamosa County. 

According to Mr. Altamirano, the 1041 regulations are important because the local jurisdictions are in the position to address: mitigation of project impacts, community development, community communication and community relationships.  A significant number of Colorado counties have identified development of transmission infrastructure as a key factor in their economic development efforts. One concern of the counties is that a one-size-fits-all approach, for example, a statewide siting authority, would preclude meaningful input from the county level and thereby minimize the county’s ability to mitigate any potential impacts of a project.
On the flip-side however, inconsistencies in the county regulations and a lack of communication and coordination across multiple jurisdictions can effectively stall a project.  Tom Dougherty, a consulting attorney to Tri-State and the Colorado Rural Electric Association, described the lengthy regulatory process that Tri-State worked through in order to obtain approvals for its Nucla-Sunshine and E-470 transmission line projects.  The timeline for the Nucla-Sunshine line approximates 17 years from identification of need.  In short, the objective/subjective considerations at the local level can challenge project progress.

The remainder of the meeting identified "choke points" and who the task force would like to have present in subsequent meetings. Choke points identified: (1) inconsistencies in the county regulations; (2) delays in the court system in appealing decisions; (3) delays in the PUC executing its backstop authority; and (4) delays introduced by sequential CPCN/siting processes.

Discussion relating to a statewide authority for siting will come later in the process.

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