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Xcel Gives Up Plan to Expand Hydropower in Colorado

Xcel Gives Up Plan to Expand Hydropower in Colorado

Pumped-storage hydropower won’t be the answer to Xcel’s need for dispatchable zero-carbon energy. At least not for now.

According to the Colorado Sun:

Xcel Energy has killed its plan to build a hydropower project in Unaweep Canyon.


The utility on Wednesday morning told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it was withdrawing its application for a preliminary permit for a two-reservoir, pumped-storage hydropower plant in the rural western Colorado Unaweep Canyon. The commission on Tuesday had accepted Xcel’s Public Service Company of Colorado preliminary permit application, giving the utility the ability to further study the controversial plan.


Utility representatives declined to comment beyond Wednesday’s filing.

While Xcel has been tight-lipped about why exactly the utility decided to axe the plan so soon after receiving a permit from FERC to begin preliminary work on the project, the inevitable opposition from environmental groups (who oppose just about everything, it seems) and local residents justifiably concerned with land-use issues likely played a role.

As the Sun article points out:

Opposition to the plan was slowly taking shape, with residents and environmental groups writing letters to state and federal politicians, trying to gather support for their fight. There were concerns about wildlife and water, which Xcel planned to pump from new wells next to the Gunnison River to the two new reservoirs through 19 miles of pipeline traversing mostly private land. The homeowners on the valley floor were unclear how the utility would acquire their land without their consent.

Xcel could always try again to build a new pumped-storage facility here in the state at a later date, but for now, it seems the technology won’t be expanding anytime soon.

I’m increasingly bearish on the prospects of hydropower ever gaining a genuine foothold in Colorado’s energy mix. Despite recently being reclassified by the General Assembly as a qualifying renewable resource under the state’s portfolio standards, Colorado currently only generates around 3% of its electricity from hydropower resources, according to U.S. EIA data.

Between the inevitable environmental backlash to building hydropower projects of any scale and the dwindling generation of existing hydro resources on the Colorado river resulting from ongoing drought conditions, it seems unlikely that its share of the energy mix will ever expand much.

The makes procuring baseload generation from resources like advanced nuclear (and possibly some geothermal) all the more necessary for Colorado to ensure that it has both a reliable and clean energy mix in the future.

There simply isn’t another clean resource ready to pick up the slack.

Jake Fogleman