From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A Glenwood Canyon hydroelectric power plant with a controlling historic water right on the Colorado River is not for sale, a top executive with the Colorado subsidiary of Xcel Energy said Monday. Speaking at a meeting of the Colorado Basin Roundtable water-planning group, Jerome Davis, regional vice president of Xcel’s Public Service Company of Colorado, called the plant “extremely important” to Public Service.
The roundtable group is providing input on the state water plan and is hoping that plan takes note of the plant’s importance to western Colorado because of its 1905 water right. The right requires delivery of 1,250 cubic feet per second to the plant and is senior to rights including those of Front Range municipal transmountain diverters. The water continues downstream of the plant because of its nonconsumptive nature.
Western Slope entities have feared that Xcel might sell the small, 15-megawatt plant to a Front Range entity interested in abandoning the water right, which would significantly decrease Colorado River flows certain times of year. There also is Western Slope interest in having an opportunity to buy the plant should it be available for sale, to protect those historic flows.
But Davis on Monday said Xcel isn’t interested in selling the plant. He noted that the company has invested about $21 million there since 2007 repairing a ruptured penstock, doing dam work and a spillway replacement, and undertaking other projects.
“It’s an important plant for us when you talk about system reliability and system stability,” Davis said.
“… It also plays an important role in our renewable portfolio. … Those reasons really drive that in terms of where we view that long-term necessity of that plant.”
He said system reliability and rate competitiveness are Xcel’s top priorities as a utility, and while small, Shoshone adds to that reliability.
The plant doesn’t count as renewable energy in terms of Xcel meeting what’s required of it in that regard in Colorado, but Xcel officials said Monday it’s still viewed as an important renewable source within the company.
Asked whether Xcel would be willing to grant the Western Slope the right of first refusal should it ever decide to sell the plant, Davis declined to make any such commitment. But he did say the company took away that right from Denver in a franchise agreement between the city and Xcel for providing power there.
“We really see no change in terms of our operations” going forward with the plant, Davis reiterated, but he said the company makes a point to listen to all stakeholders and “ensure that all vested interests are listened to and addressed” in whatever it does.
“You’re hearing me say Shoshone is not for sale. I do have a pretty good feel in terms of the importance of it to the entire state,” Davis said.
As part of a 2007 franchise agreement with Denver, Xcel agreed to relax Shoshone’s water call under certain conditions, beginning with a projection that Denver water storage wouldn’t reach 80 percent during spring runoff. He said Xcel worked to involve others in the discussions to reach a balanced agreement that worked for the Western Slope and the river, and Denver proved to be “tremendous partner.”
“There’s this understanding that we work these things out with all stakeholders, as one unit,” Davis said.
A subsequent, far-reaching agreement between the utility Denver Water and dozens of Western Slope entities includes a protocol for generally continuing flows during plant outages, and even if the plant is no longer operational. Under it, the utility also would support possible purchase of a plant by a Western Slope entity. Under that agreement, the Colorado River Water Conservation District has initiated a process to study how best to preserve Shoshone flows, whether through a plant purchase or other means.
Among the concerns for some Western Slope interests is whether Xcel might someday change its mind about selling Shoshone, and the fact that the Denver Water deal doesn’t extend to other Front Range utilities.
Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran told Davis Monday that should a time come when the plant is put up for sale, it’s the water right the Western Slope cares about, not Shoshone’s power capability.
“To remove that water right from the West Slope will upset the balance of the state more than you can ever realize,” she said.
Said basin roundtable member Chuck Ogilby, “I just think the Western Slope wants to know that that water right’s going to be there and protect our minimum-flow regime that we have as an assurance today.”
Officials with the river district have indicated they would be a likely interested party should the opportunity to acquire the plant ever arise. But Eric Kuhn, the district’s general manager, said Xcel is the most qualified entity to operate and maintain the aging facility, and that the district’s interest in the plant stems from river flows, not power generation.
“If it were for sale we would have to have somebody who knew the power business as our major partner because we couldn’t do that. We’re not in that business,” he said.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.