Work halted on Glenwood electric transmission tower | AspenTimes.com

Work halted on Glenwood electric transmission tower

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Kelley Cox/Post IndependentThe half-built, rust-colored, steel tower recently erected by Xcel Energy/Public Service Company behind the Hot Springs Lodge and the vapor caves in Glenwood Springs caught the attention of citizens who questioned whether or not the proper procedures were followed before construction. Work has since been halted, and the project will go through a public review.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Work has been suspended on a Public Service Co. of Colorado project to upgrade electric transmission lines into the north Glenwood power substation, after concerns were raised by a local citizen about the height of one of the towers and the lack of a public review.

“We became aware of the construction going on above the city substation at the end of last week, and went out to investigate,” Glenwood Springs Community Development Director Andrew McGregor said.

After contacting Public Service Company, it was determined that the work, which was to involve a 100-foot tall switching tower on the hillside above the Yampah Vapor Caves, exceeded normal maintenance operations, he said.

Not only were proper noticing and public review procedures not followed, the planned height and visibility of the tower may violate the city’s Hillside Preservation Overlay Zone district rules, said local architect Dean Moffat, who called the powerline work to the city’s attention.

“On hillsides of a certain slope (20 percent or greater), and particularly the steeper the slope, the more criteria you have to satisfy,” said Moffat, who was involved in drafting the hillside preservation rules a number of years ago.

“Most importantly, it’s a public review process that involves noticing everyone affected, and requires that it go through both planning and zoning and city council review,” Moffat said.

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City officials met with company representatives in Glenwood Springs earlier this week, and the company agreed to halt work and go through the city’s formal special use permit process, McGregor said.

According to Michael Diehl, supervisor of siting and land rights for Public Service Company of Colorado, the transmission line is being upgraded in anticipation of increasing voltage into the city’s power substation.

“The city upgraded the transformer a couple of years ago to eventually go from 69 kilovolts to 115 kilovolts,” Diehl said. “That meant we had to change the geometry of how the lines come into that substation and upgrade the switching.”

While the city purchases electric power from Holy Cross Energy for city electric customers, the power is actually delivered through Xcel Energy/Public Service Company lines, he explained.

In order to make the necessary upgrades, the 15 old wooden power lines and structures that were formerly on the hillside were removed. They were to be replaced by five new metal and wood structures, including the largest, a 100-foot steel tower to accommodate the switching equipment. The tower structure was only about half built when construction was halted, he said.

Unfortunately, Diehl said, some of the local project officials who would normally be in charge of siting and permitting had either left the company or were not available. As a result, the lack of a formal permit application was an oversight, he said.

“I was notified last Friday, and that was the first I’d heard about it,” Diehl said. “We shut the work down and agreed to go through the special use process.”

Whether that will involve some form of the original plan, or coming up with another solution is something that will need to be determined, he said.

“We are cleaning up that site, because there used to be tons of wooden poles up there,” he said.

In the meantime, the substation remains shut down. That does leave the city at risk for a power outage should something happen to the other two transmission lines coming into Glenwood Springs, one from the east and the other from the west, Diehl said.

Both are single-feed lines, and if something happens to one of them a good portion of the city would be without power, he said.

The upgrade work was being done now, because demand for electricity is down between the summer and winter seasons.

“But the substation will need to be turned on sometime in late fall, before the winter demand rises too much,” Diehl said. “What we’ll try to do is figure out a solution that would allow us to continue the work using temporary structures until we can come up with a permanent solution.”

jstroud@postindependent.com