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Study now underway seeks to deliver answers crucial for state to attain GHG reduction goals.


by Allen Best

As Big Pivots has noted any number of times, the hum of electrons from transmissions does not trigger in all but the most rare of people the same murmurs of visceral happiness as does a stream or river of water. That said, for Colorado to meet its carbon reduction goals, improving the flows of these electrons will be critical.

Possibly critical in achieving this orderly flow will be the Colorado Electric Transmission Authority, a political subdivision of the state created by legislators in 2022. A story in Big Pivots during May 2023 called it the transmission developer of last resort, a title that does not fully reflect the array of legislatively assigned tasks. Legislators also gave the agency crucial tools, including the power of eminent domain and bonding authority.

With its feet now under it some 18 months since the first meeting of directors, CETA has commissioned a study to assess what rivers of electricity Colorado needs from 2024 to 2044. The consultant, Energy Strategies, is to deliver a report to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on or before August. A final report is to be delivered to the General Assembly in January 2025.

In requesting proposals during October, CETA set the budget at $400,000 to $500,000.

The to-do list is extensive:

  • What transmission capacity will be needed to meet Colorado’s forecasted demand for electricity and achieve the state’s emissions reduction goals?
  • How can the flow of electricity in the transmission network can be improved and how can reliability of the electric grid be improved?
  • What might be the role of advanced transmission technologies and electricity storage in meeting the needs for expanded transmission capacity?
  • How can land impacts of this expanded transmission network be minimized by using existing rights-of-way and reconductoring. That’s the process of stringing new conductors on existing towers using the same rights of way to increase the thermal capacity of the transmission lines.
  • *What new transmission corridors will be needed?

This study was specifically required by last year’s massive SB23-016, the bill whose prime sponsors included Sen. Chris Hansen and Rep. Karen McCormick. The first report must be delivered to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission before Sept. 1 with a report to state legislators due in January 2025.

A question: Xcel Energy has already started building nearly $2 billion in transmission on Colorado’s eastern plains. It proposed another $3 billion as part of its electric resource plan. PUC commissioners have said that Xcel had failed to justify that much investment. Tri-State Generation and Transmission and the Western Area Power Authority also have ample transmission networks.

Given all this existing and planned investment, why might more be needed?

Maury Galbraith, an economist with broad experience in transmission in the West, was hired to lead the agency in April 2023. He says that the individual utilities are doing the transmission planning necessary to meet the needs of their customers. They are responsible for specific service territories.

“This study looks holistically at the entire state and asks what are the needs for Colorado to achieve its clean energy goals. We are looking more holistically at a wider geographical footprint. We may find different needs or transmission solutions than Xcel or Tri-State or another incumbent utility might find.”

Galbraith described the study as a “gap analysis.” The study may conclude that the existing utility transmission will be sufficient to meet Colorado’s needs. Or it may find gaps.

“The study acknowledges there is the possibility for duplication. We are going to do a gap analysis to make sure we are not duplicating those other efforts. We want to identify gaps and specific niches.”

The San Luis Valley is awash with high-elevation sunshine, but it lacks transmission. It also lacks sufficient water to justify existing irrigated acreage. That’s Mount Blanca in the background. Photo/Allen Best

Colorado has two areas of exceptional abundance in potential renewable energy that are similarly poor in the transmission needed to deliver the electricity to markets.

The San Luis Valley scores extremely high in solar potential given its higher elevation and rare cloudiness. The only existing transmission is across Poncha Pass.

Southeastern Colorado also has potential renewable energy that cannot now get to urban markets. The Colorado Energy Pathway swings south to the Lamar area before hooking westward to Pueblo, completing something roughly resembling a quadrangle across the eastern Plains.

A transmission line called Longhorn that would extend south from the Lamar area toward Springfield would cost an estimated $700,000. The PUC commissioners indicated they believe there is merit in this idea — just not yet.

The two areas are also alike in that land now devoted to agricultural production will have to come out of production because of declining water resources. Both have average annual incomes well below the state average.

CETA has asked Energy Strategies to look beyond the four corners of Colorado and also to look at connections to organized wholesale markets, which currently exist east and west but not in Colorado to the degree that legislators have said must occur by 2030.

“Colorado isn’t physically connected with its neighbors in a real robust way,” says Galbraith. “So there is probably some interstate transmission that may pop up in that needs assessment. People are speculating that there is a need for transmission to the Eastern Interconnection Grid, or possibly upgrading the existing interties (In Colorado near Lamar). That could pop up on the radar screen. People are suggesting that Colorado needs to interconnect with the PacifiCorp system in Wyoming. We need to take a look at that.”

How about better connecting with New Mexico? That state has an older agency, the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority that served as the model for CETA. It has produced plans for a transmission line that will run along the New Mexico-Colorado border. What might be the role of Colorado in that or other potential lines?

Those are the sorts of lines that a specific utility might find difficult to explain to regulators or its members but which would serve Colorado’s decarbonization goals more broadly, says Galbraith.

Walsh stop sign, Allen Best

A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Walsh and other locations of Baca County had Colorado’s best wind resource, but it lacks transmission. Photo/:Allen Best


For its very first meeting in 2022, CETA didn’t have enough members present to justify a meeting. Things have improved since then. The board met four times in 2023 but in 2024 will pick up the pace to six meetings.

It has three standing committees who meet independently. One is narrowly focused on finances, the second on transmission planning.

The third, the Partnership Development Committee, has a draft partnership policy that spells out when CETA will work with independent transmission developers – and when not.

The policy sees three levels of partnerships:

  • basic, where CETA can provide support and facilitation;
  • intermediate, where projects are further along and the developers are interested in partnering with CETA or tapping CETA’s power of eminent domain to acquire rights of way; and
  • advanced: a developer needs to access the bonding authority of CETA that was enabled by the 2021 law.

In addition to its authority centered around achieving clean energy, the law spells out CETA’s mission being to boost reliability of electricity and also to deliver economic development.

See more at: About CETA


Allen Best
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