By John Knetemann and contributors
Xcel Energy’s well of public support for the Rush Creek Wind Farm, a $1.1 billion, 95,000-acre wind farm boondoggle on Colorado’s Eastern Plains appears to be poisoned.
Conventional wisdom says Xcel’s application along with the so-called public approval process via the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for the Rush Creek Wind Farm is mere formality. In a process that should be thoughtful, deliberative, and take a year or more for thorough economic and environmental analysis, Xcel requested and the PUC granted an expedited process of just a few months, which makes the whole thing look like a done deal.
Part of Xcel’s strategy to get the expedited timeline was to manufacture what appeared to be overwhelming support from elected officials. This is where Xcel got sloppy, very sloppy.
As we documented in our paper “Irresponsible by Nature: No need for, no need to rush Rush Creek,” Xcel contracted with former State Senator Greg Brophy to pressure the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners into supporting their project including publishing a letter to the Editor in the Denver Post.
Calling it “prejudicial and inappropriate”, the Board of Commissioners refused citing concerns over the Board’s role as a quasi-judicial entity. Yet a supportive letter supposedly written by Commissioner Doug Stone was published in the Denver Post on April 10, well ahead of Xcel’s May 13 public application. Apparently, Stone didn’t write it and didn’t approve it:
The Board discussed a request for a letter of support for Xcel’s proposal to build additional renewable energy generation in Eastern Colorado and a letter already submitted to the Denver Post. Mr. Ensign [Country Administrator Gary Ensign] provided a copy of a sample letter that Greg Brophy [working on behalf of Xcel] requested the commissioners send to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies Public Utilities Commission, as well as a copy of his email to Mr. Brophy explaining the Board’s hesitation in doing so. The email informed Mr. Brophy that endorsement of any yet unpermitted projects that would require any permitting decision on the part of the commissioners could be perceived as prejudicial and inappropriate. He added that while the commissioners certainly agreed with several of his points, they were in no position to formally or informally endorse such a letter.
Now we discover Xcel did something similar with the State Legislature. On April 14, the PUC received supportive comments (PDF) from 62 legislators, including Senator John Cooke (R-Greeley). Senator Cooke has since submitted his own letter in opposition (PDF) to the project because of the expedited timeline, which apparently wasn’t disclosed to lawmakers when Xcel solicited their support.
In April 2016, Xcel spent nearly $40,000 on cadre of contract and corporate lobbyists to manipulate the state legislature according to reports available on the Colorado Secretary of State Web site. Spending that much money in one month alone, you’d think they would do a neater, cleaner job.
Xcel’s rush to get this project rammed through the PUC for its own financial gain, as we documented in our paper, has led to sloppiness in ginning up public support and calls into question not just the process but also Xcel’s entire application.
If the PUC doesn’t slow this down, it will be malfeasance and ratepayers will be on the hook for a project that hasn’t been thoroughly vetted both economically and environmentally.
Disclosure: Senator John Cooke is married to Amy Cooke, Independence Institute Executive Vice President and contributor to this blog post.