Xcel’s Power Pathway leaves its mark on rural Colorado
The point where the corners of Colorado’s Lincoln, El Paso, Crowley and Pueblo counties meet were marked by a small bronze plaque, but the plaque is missing, a trophy of sorts, presumably pocketed by an antelope hunter. The area, which is part of the Meinzer family’s Four Corners Ranch is big country, marked by large pastures, little rainfall, and views of Pikes Peak, Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo range.
Rancher Jean Meinzer said the area is feeling the squeeze from urban and suburban sprawl, placing increasing burdens upon roads and school districts. No stranger to dry conditions, cattle producers and rural residents have faced historic drought conditions with little relief in the forecast. With the pressure of urban sprawl, miserably low commodity prices, and a slew of damaging pieces of legislation facing rural areas like this one, Meinzer said the community hasn’t escaped the tightening grip of mental health challenges among farmers and ranchers. It’s not, she said, a good time for another straw on the back of the proverbial camel.
Meinzer runs cows on state sections, as many ranchers do, and one of the proposed routes of Xcel Energy’s Colorado Power Pathway follows a number of those state sections. Meinzer, who has attended the public meetings for stakeholders, said she asked who would receive the lease payment from the lines. Meinzer said on the state sections that she leases and pays the property taxes, the funds would be paid to the state, a point of contention for her and many others who lease school sections.
“If you look at these maps, it’s just conspicuous how many state properties they’re trying to get into,” she said. “That leads me to wonder how far back the state land board agreed to this.”
Meinzer said one of the routes would place a transmission line just out her back door and a stone’s throw from the doors of Miami Yoder School and Edison School. The proposed line also runs over the top of their water line, the sole source of water on the ranch for the cattle.
“There’s plenty of space out here to run this if you want to run it, you don’t have to be in someone’s backyard, and you don’t have to run it across state land,” she said.
The $2 billion project includes about 600 miles of double-circuit transmission line, four new and four expanded substations, and would be completed in stages beginning in 2025.
“Even though they’ll make a one-time payment to the landowner, it will rip up our already-fragile ecosystem that has been droughted since 2001,” she said. “Is it worth it?”
Meinzer said pasture conditions have been exceptionally dry, so even reseeded lines are unlikely to grow. The memory, she said, of the drought that forced the sale of so many cowherds is still fresh in her memory, in part because many operations haven’t yet recovered the cow numbers, the capital or the moisture levels. The irony of marred views, trampled and damaged pastures, and what she said is poorly conceived routes all in the name of renewable energy, she said, is not lost on her.
“Agriculture is in a time of depression right now, we’re not good,” she said. “And now they want to throw more stuff at us. It’s another encroachment against agriculture and another battle thrown on our plate right now. And they wonder why the suicide rate among farmers and ranchers is so high.”
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R- Sterling, said the state legislature passed a bill over both his objections and no vote to allow transmission lines anywhere in Colorado that also granted the power to use eminent domain to take land if they need it. This, he said, is an example of forcing the hand of rural Colorado for the benefit of urban areas.
“It is amazing to me that all of those that want renewable energy such as wind and solar, don’t want it in their backyard,” Sonnenberg said. “A perfect place for solar near Denver where they wouldn’t need to run all these transmission lines is the old Rocky Mountain Arsenal but they say that would not be the view they want for their open space. But apparently it is OK for our view in rural Colorado.”
LACK OF COMMUNICATION
Terri Thomas is a landowner in eastern El Paso County and said Xcel has failed to make an honest effort to communicate to residents of the dramatic and life-changing project.
“What I see for our area is that a very few people will make some money on leases for which they will pay dearly in terms of quality of life,” Thomas said. “A much larger group of people will have decreased quality of life, loss of property value, possible impaired physical and mental health, land which is no longer beneficial for birds and animals, loss of agricultural land, destroyed historical areas and a destruction of the beauty of our area, including a magnificent view of Pikes Peak. A lovely picture of increased revenue and jobs is painted. The negative sides of the project are ignored and not mentioned. We are a small cog in a very large wheel and yet we are the ones who will feel these effects.”
Some of the historical areas that will likely be affected include the Sand Creek Massacre National Historical Site. Though multiple requests for interviews were unanswered by tribal stakeholders, they told the Colorado Sun they had yet been able to submit comments.
“If you look at the site, there is little diversity in terms of elevation,” said Conrad Fisher, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a board member of the Sand Creek Massacre Foundation. “You can see for miles. Transmission lines would be very visible, and that’s not very aesthetic to the surrounding area. They would impede and disrupt people who come there for spiritual quest and ceremonial activity.”
Described as a sacred place, the site allows, according to Ryan Ortiz, Northern Arapaho tribal administrator, visitors to “reflect, to commemorate, to mourn, to try to heal.”
“It isn’t like any other national historic site, probably anywhere, because of the atrocities that went on there,” he said. “So when we as the tribes go back to the site, we’re going back to a place of sorrow, because that time era, and the massacre itself, was basically the beginning of historical trauma for our tribal people.”
Randy Fordice, a spokesperson for Xcel Energy, said the renewable energy plan is an ambitious one with goals of a carbon-free future. The way that will be done, he said, is retiring coal plants and, most importantly, is through investment in Colorado’s solar and wind energy resources. Connection by a transmission line through eastern Colorado is key to this project, known as the Colorado Power Pathway.
He said he anticipates state level approval early this year, followed by the county level permitting process once the location of the lines is solidified.
Fordice said the transmission system is the backbone of the electrical system and the proposed lines would carry electricity not only for Xcel, but for other utilities and cooperatives.
Fordice said Xcel has heard positive feedback from stakeholders, as well as support for renewable energy development, though he said they have also heard concerns about the visual impact of the project. In terms of agriculture, land use, he said, can typically continue after the installation of the lines, with the exception of tall trees or building within the easement, which is 75 feet wide on both sides of each pole. He said as with any infrastructure project that covers over 500 miles, it will cross both state-owned and privately owned property, but it’s difficult to estimate exactly how much at this point.
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The House Agriculture Committee today approved six bills dealing with markets and conservation on a bipartisan basis.