Xcel Energy announced that the company reached a settlement with multiple intervening parties on the Rush Creek Wind Farm. Xcel needed the settlement to keep on its already greatly compressed time line as the Denver Post reported on September 6, “The settlement between Xcel Energy and multiple parties heads off three days of hearings before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that were set to start Wednesday [Septemeber 7].”
What wasn’t reported is that the Ratepayers Coalition of residential and business ratepayers did not agree to the settlement. In fact, in its recently filed opposition statement from attorney Shawn Mitchell, the Coalition urges the PUC to reject the settlement and Xcel’s unvetted application for the Rush Creek Wind Farm, a massive $1.3 billion project, with 300 industrial turbines spanning 95,000 acres and five counties, and 90 plus miles of transmission lines.
Specifically the Coalition lists the following reasons for it’s objection to the settlement and Xcel’s application:
The process employed to promote it was unreasonable and abusive
The project is too rushed in order for Xcel to profit from the Production Tax Credit (PTC). Xcel requested and the PUC granted such a rushed timeline that full consideration of all questions surrounding the project is completely impossible. “While reviews of this magnitude commonly require a year or longer, the Company proposed an audacious schedule of five months consideration and two months for the Commission to make its determination. For the biggest wind project in state history, the Company proposed a schedule that shortened the time for everything. It demanded faster appearances by intervening parties, shortened response times, earlier testimony, expedited everything.”
Circumstances suggest political pressure and prejudice
The day before Xcel filed its application Governor John Hickenlooper, who appoints PUC commission members, appeared at a company press conference alongside Xcel CEO David Eves to announce the Rush Creek project. At the very least the Governor’s endorsement just ahead of the application could be construed as a signal to his appointed commissioners. “The appearance is unseemly,” according to the Coalition’s position statement.
Furthermore, Commissioner Glenn Vaad openly displayed his own prejudice when he said “I’m not going to be tolerant of sand thrown in the gears” regarding the Coalition’s question about a statutory requirement that Xcel discuss all anticipated environmental impacts in its application, which it did not. Vaad’s responsibility to ratepayers and all Coloradans is to serve as a neutral regulator, not to the throw the game in favor of a regulated monopoly.
We’ve also documented Xcel’s sloppiness in manufacturing so-called public support for the project.
The substance of the project is harmful to Colorado ratepayers
The merits of Xcel’s application have not been tested. The company’s application “overstates benefits, understates costs, and uses unreasonable methodology and assumptions.” The Coalition’s expert testimony filed with the PUC suggests the project exposes Colorado electricity consumers to substantially higher rates. Further, Xcel’s assumptions about carbon emission reduction don’t hold true when considering the totality of the projecting including manufacturing and installing 300 wind turbines and establishing 90 plus miles of transmission line. “The company claimed all the benefit of carbon-free operation without considering or offsetting the initial spike of carbon emission to initiate the project, necessitated by mining and manufacture of of turbines and cement.”
In settlement talks, the Coalition requested, and was denied, an independent audit performed by an outside group or organization that would analyze Xcel’s actual cost and production numbers and make available a public report.
The application is devoid of required information about impact on wildlife
Colorado state statute requires that an applicant must discuss all environmental impact in the application. Xcel didn’t do this. It excluded any mention of raptors or bats, a well-known problem for wind turbines, to which the Coalition’s expert witness testified.
In the proposed “settlement” Xcel did not address any of these issues. It made no provisions for ratepayer protection, nor for any kind of environmental impact survey. (Click here for specifics the Coalition requested during settlement talks) For all these reasons, the Coalition urges the PUC to reject both the settlement and the entire application.