Browse our most frequently asked
questions about Colorado’s Power Pathway
A right-of-way is the actual land area acquired for a specific purpose, such as a transmission line, roadway or other infrastructure. An easement is the legal document that must be signed by the landowner before the utility can proceed and explains what uses a landowner can continue to conduct within the right of way. In this case, a utility requires certain rights (an easement) to build and maintain the utility facilities, for example a transmission line. Landowners are paid a fair market value for the easement and can continue to use the land so long as their use does not interfere with the operation and maintenance of the transmission line. An easement is the legal document signed by the landowner and it explains the uses allowed within the right-of-way.
Terms of the easement are written in the easement agreement. Most electric utility easements are perpetual (meaning there is no specified end date) and not subject to termination or expiration. Once an easement is signed, it is recorded with the County Clerk and Recorder and becomes part of the real property title record. The utility, landowner who signed the easement, and all future property owners, are bound by the agreement terms. If the utility removes the transmission line and abandons the right-of-way, it can release the easement rights.
Project representatives will reach out to individual landowners as the routing process progresses to discuss the preferred transmission line route and easements.
If Xcel Energy needs to pursue a new easement from a landowner, our land agents will set up a meeting with that landowner to discuss the proposed infrastructure and construction activities that may impact their land.
Landowners typically are given a one-time payment based on fair market value for easement rights to their land, traditionally based on the appraised land value. Most of the land is still usable for the same purpose it had been used for, particularly in agricultural settings. Landowners also are eligible for reasonable compensation for property damage that may occur when the transmission line is constructed.
Typically land acquisition is completed during or after we have acquired land use permits from local jurisdictions and in correlation with engineering. A lot of Colorado’s Power Pathway acquisition activities will occur in 2022 through 2024.
To better understand if the presence of transmission facilities on a property impacts the property value, Xcel Energy will be retaining experts to conduct a study focused on answering this question to inform Xcel Energy on how best to respond to property value concerns.
Xcel Energy prefers to acquire land rights through negotiations with landowners. Although we do have the power of eminent domain, Xcel Energy only uses that power when a right must be acquired and a deal cannot be reached with the landowner after good faith negotiations.
Yes, as long as you take these precautions:
- Prevent a solid stream of water from hitting the wires. Equipment with nozzles that are small in diameter or spray a fine mist is typically not problematic because the solid part of the water stream will not reach the power line wires. Also, an intermittent spray of water will not conduct significant amounts of electricity. Even large diameter nozzles operating at their normal spray angle typically will not reach the wires with a solid stream. However, at no time should the solid part of a water stream touch power line wires. Should that happen, turn the water off by switching the pump off before trying to correct the problem.
- Make sure the irrigation system is well grounded. If you have questions as to whether or not your irrigation system is adequately grounded, contact your local electric utility.
- Check with utility before installing a new irrigation system. Each system should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis; questions about the installation and operation of an irrigation system adjacent to or under a power line should be directed to your electric utility.
- DO NOT install long lengths of pipe parallel and adjacent to transmission lines. They should be laid out at right angles to power lines to reduce risk of the pipes building up an induced charge.
- Be careful when moving the pipes. When unloading irrigation pipes, stay at least 50 feet from power lines to avoid any chance of raising them too close to the wires.
The Project will support the economic vitality of our state, while delivering significant economic benefits to rural communities across eastern and southern Colorado over the short- and long-term. More immediately, Project construction will require substantial amounts of contract labor, while also providing local jurisdictions and host communities with additional tax revenues and potential employment opportunities. Moreover, once the Project is completed, it will drive ongoing job opportunities and employment in the clean energy projects (wind, solar, etc.) that ultimately interconnect to the Pathway Project.
Additionally, generation developers may be able to build projects that otherwise were idle due to lack of transmission access to market and/or transmission constraints. Generation projects may provide economic development through increased jobs associated with construction and local tax-based revenue associated with land usage, not to mention payments to existing landowners.
Metropolitan areas of the state will have increased access to renewable generation to serve area load and meet the goals of specific retail and wholesale customers and local communities.
As Xcel Energy continues our public outreach campaign, local vendors will have an opportunity to meet with project management and construction personnel to discuss further. Interested businesses can learn more by visiting our Partners and Suppliers webpage.
Xcel Energy does have a Buy America program and Colorado’s Power Pathway will fall under that, but there is not a specific Buy American plan for Colorado’s Power Pathway.
The Pathway requires approval from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN). In March 2021, Xcel Energy took the first step in the approval process by filing an application with the CPUC. The CPUC will review our proposal to determine if it agrees the project is in the public interest. If the CPUC agrees, it will grant a CPCN.
If granted the CPCN, the cost of Colorado’s Power Pathway will be blended in with the cost of power and transmission lines from all of Xcel Energy’s facilities. The company works hard to keep the cost of electricity it provides to its customers as low as possible. The amount we collect from our customers’ bills allows us to maintain our infrastructure and conduct routine maintenance.
A combination of factors determines the eventual cost of constructing a new, or upgrading an existing power line. While a straight-line path for a power line may be desirable, factors such as avoidance or mitigation of existing or planned land uses, avoidance or mitigation of environmental conditions affects the design required due to terrain. Those and other factors, including right-of-way acquisition, contribute to the siting and eventual costs of a project.
This project will recover the retail share costs through our Transmission Cost Adjustment (TCA) Rider until included in the base rates. The TCA recovers the transmission investments not already in base rates and is subject to annual changes to be effective on January 1 of each year. Cost for Wholesale Transmission customers will be through FERC- Jurisdictional Transmission Rates.
A Schedule of Activities is located on the Project Description page.
Given that we are still in the early stages of our project, we have not reached out to any tribes. Tribal outreach typically occurs as part of our resources review as we identify alternative routes. We welcome feedback on suggested coordination and will be engaging tribes as the project progresses.
Segment 6 is optional because it’s needed to get down into that energy zone, but it’s not necessarily needed to develop the bulk transmission system. The alternative is for multiple gen-tie lines to come up from within that energy zone in the Baca County area. The decision will be made about the segments when we get our Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity approval, which is expected by February 2022.
Colorado’s Power Pathway will provide bulk electric transmission capacity in eastern Colorado and will not change local electric service providers. If you currently receive electric service from Mountain View Electric Association, CORE, YW Electric, or others, they will continue to provide that service after Colorado’s Power Pathway is operational. Colorado has an open transmission system, so Xcel Energy’s power lines also carry electricity generated by other utilities and cooperatives around the state, benefitting everyone who uses electricity. All transmission providers in Colorado will have access to Colorado's Power Pathway to deliver clean, renewable energy to its customers, who will still be serviced by their current power provider.
Colorado Senate Bill 21-072 was signed into law on June 24, 2021. It requires utilities in Colorado to join a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) by 2030 and establishes the Colorado Electric Transmission Authority (CETA). The requirement for Xcel Energy-Colorado and other utilities to join an RTO by 2030 stands unless the Colorado Public Utilities Commission determines the action is not in the public interest.
An RTO coordinates, controls and monitors a multi-state electric grid to ensure power flows securely, reliably and cost-effectively within its territory. In the upper Midwest, Xcel Energy is a member of the Midcontinent System Operator (MISO). Xcel Energy-Texas and New Mexico is a member of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP).
The new Colorado Electric Transmission Authority will be able to identify transmission corridors in the state and facilitate transmission development opportunities by issuing bonds and using eminent domain authority for projects. The transmission planning process currently used in the state will continue. If Xcel Energy develops a project through the CETA Process, the law includes provisions enabling the company to recover its cost from retail customers.
Colorado’s Power Pathway uses a multi-step process to develop the preferred transmission line route that includes engaging the public, landowners and other stakeholders. When the initial Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) was filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), 20-mile-wide study areas were identified to begin the initial routing study and estimate costs. The 20-mile-wide study areas were narrowed down to focus areas, areas where the preferred transmission line route could be located. Within these focus areas, preliminary transmission line route options have been identified and were presented at our first round of public open houses in late 2021. We are currently evaluating feedback received about preliminary transmission line routes and incorporating it into our routing process. Public and stakeholder input helps us determine the need to modify or eliminate route options or consider adding new ones.
Cultural and historical resources, technical and engineering requirements, environmental constraints, existing and planned land use, factors related to the construction and operation of the transmission line and other factors that people have told use are important to consider are evaluated and compared for every possible route option. The final route proposed in the county permitting process balances all these factors.
All links shown in yellow on Project maps are preliminary options for the transmission line route, not the final location. The number of preliminary transmission line links will be narrowed down until a single preferred transmission line route is identified.
The potential environmental impacts associated with development of Colorado’s Power Pathway are being evaluated throughout project development, and coordination with applicable federal, state and local agencies and jurisdictions is ongoing. Once the preferred route for the project has been identified, we will know the exact permits required for this project. Studies under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are currently not anticipated to be required. As part of our local permitting efforts, we will conduct environmental screening and evaluation for each segment. Xcel Energy will conduct desktop and field reviews of biological and cultural resources within and near the Project area that may be affected by development. Xcel Energy is communicating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the Project and will follow recommended non-disturbance buffers to avoid or minimize impacts on special-status species.
Sand Creek Massacre NHS is located outside of the area that we anticipate the transmission line may be located. We recognize the concern regarding potential impacts to the viewshed beyond the site boundary should the transmission line be located outside of, but in proximity, to the site.
The viewshed associated with Sand Creek Massacre NHS and potential visibility of transmission route options in this area are being evaluated and considered as part of the transmission routing process. The current preferred route is located ten miles from the Monument Overlook within Sand Creek NHS, eight miles.
We have been in contact with the National Parks Service, the agency that oversees management of the site. We are also working to setup meetings with tribal representatives to discuss their feedback on Colorado’s Power Pathway. As routing progresses, there will be continued agency, jurisdictional and tribal outreach to discuss proposed locations for the transmission line.
We will continue to seek input from tribes and other stakeholders in early 2022 about our revised transmission line routes. All stakeholders have had the opportunity to weigh in on route options, and we are reviewing and incorporating the feedback received into the routing process.
The right-of-way width required for the proposed 345-kilovolt transmission line is 150 feet. At the very least, the lines will be built 75 feet from a home. As part of the routing criteria, we try to optimize staying away from homes to the extent feasible. As we go through the routing process one of our main goals will be to avoid residences, where feasible.
As part of our routing process, we have collected data of inhabited structures within the project area, and we are ground truthing this data as well. We are classifying those structures as avoidance areas. We will do everything we can do avoid routing the line over those inhabited structures.
Cities and municipalities are usually not considered an exclusion or avoidance area in our routing criteria. However, because these areas are usually more densely populated, and because our criteria include avoidance of homes within 75 feet of the right-of-way, cities will most likely be avoided.
We are aware of special-use airspace and military training areas in eastern Colorado. We have been and will continue coordinating with the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), other military entities and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as routing progresses.
Whenever our projects get routed near air force bases or other airport facilities, our transmission structure location and heights are filed with the FAA. We work directly through the FAA with the Department of Defense (DOD), airport space and public and private airports to determine how our new transmission structure heights impact their facilities. This direct coordination through the FAA helps determine the feasibility of the project relative to the airport or protected air space.
Yes, our study areas include federal land such as Bureau of Land Management managed land. Due to the geographic location, no tribal reservation land falls within the study areas.
Generally, buildings or other structures are not allowed in the right-of-way/easement for transmission line. Landowners can only build structures under a power line after receiving written approval from the electric utility. Buildings and other structures are generally not permitted on rights-of-way due to clearance and safety concerns. It is important that you discuss projects with the utility to avoid creating situations that could become unsafe to the landowner and/or utility workers.
We consider existing power lines as a suitable area to route new lines. This will be evaluated as part of our routing process.
Xcel Energy uses an open and comprehensive process when siting transmission lines that considers electric system planning, economics, the environment, public involvement, regulatory issues, land rights and engineering input.
The Study Areas are defined based on the interconnection points. Resource data are studied and mapped using a Geographic Information System (GIS). Data are analyzed in the following categories: Land use and jurisdiction, Cultural and historic resources, Existing linear transportation and utility corridors, biological resources, and water resources. Preliminary links between the endpoints are identified based on the resource data collected and we then coordinate with local jurisdictions and the public to gather input. The potential routes are refined and compared, then presented at public route refinement workshops for additional review and comment. Finally, based on jurisdictional and public input, final adjustments are made to the route alternatives and a preferred route is selected
Wind and solar farms, as well as all other forms of electricity generating facilities, require substations and transmission lines to move energy to areas where it is consumed. If you have a transmission line on the property, the likelihood of a wind farm developing nearby is greater. While the transmission line traversing your property does not guarantee you will be offered the chance to participate in a renewable energy project, it does increase the chance due to the transmission line being on your property.
A more detailed view of our study areas can be accessed on this project website. Xcel Energy does not publicly share spatial data; those interested in looking at the project spatially are encouraged to check the project website for updates as routes and substation locations become more refined.
As the routing and siting work for our project progresses, our website will be continually updated with more information including copies of the segment maps. We will also host in-person routing and siting public meetings where we will present alternative routes and gather feedback from the public. More detailed maps of the route alternatives will be provided prior to those meetings. Sign up for our mailing or email subscription list to stay informed.
Because the Pathway Project involves construction of a new 345 kV transmission line outside of existing ROW, we anticipate that Local land use permits will be required in the counties or municipalities where the project is located. Examples of these permits include Special Use Permits, Conditional Use Permits, or Senate Bill 1041 Areas and Activities of State Interest Permits.
Federal and state permits/approvals may be required prior to construction.
We also anticipate that construction related permits such as permits for county and local road crossings, county and local road occupancy, and additional stormwater discharge permits.
In the coming months, as we complete routing activities for the project, we plan to coordinate with local, state, and federal permitting authorities to determine all permits that will be needed over the course of the project.
Xcel Energy will discuss considerations, such as CRP land, with each landowner where an easement for Colorado’s Power Pathway is needed.
The proposed lines are 345,000 volts (345kV). The line conductor has the capacity to transport about 1,700 megavolt amperes (MVA). However, the loadability (i.e. capacity) of lines that are over 100 miles is limited by other operational constraints to a maximum capacity that is lower then the line conductor of 1,700 MVA.
Our goals for renewable resources are identified in our Electric Resource Plan (ERP), which was filed in March 2021. Our estimated target is about 2,300 megawatts of wind and about 1,600 megawatts of utility solar, for a total of about 4,000 megawatts. We also have goals for storage and dispatchable energy.
All wind and solar are intermittent and variable generation resources. Our resource planning group analyzes the availability of wind and solar resources to ensure adequate capacity is available through a combination of renewable and dispatchable resources including coal, natural gas, hydro, wind and solar. Maintaining system reliability as we close coal plants and increasingly rely on wind and solar is a key goal of the Company and required by state statute. Existing and incremental gas fired generation and storage resources will be used to provide the needed generation flexibility around intermittent wind and solar generation as our coal plants retire.
We have limited injection capability at our existing points of interconnection, so the transmission system in eastern and southern Colorado is essentially full. These electric resource zones, where we have the best resources for wind and solar, are very constrained. It's highly inhibited by the lack of transmission at this point.
While Xcel Energy is planning for the addition of renewable resources to our electric system, we’re also looking ahead to the time when these new resources have served their useful lives and will need to be retired or replaced. That includes looking at the eventual replacement and disposal of wind turbines.
At this time, wind farms have a life of approximately 20 years or more and ideally, all the parts of a turbine are designed to last the full lifespan of the facility. When a wind farm reaches its end of life it is either retired or retrofitted to newer equipment.
- There are a host of recyclable materials that make up wind turbines, including metals and other materials that are recyclable (nacelle, tower sections, internal gearing).
- The oils used in turbines are also removed and recycled.
- Blades are made of fiberglass and other recyclable materials. They are cut into manageable sections to remove the recyclable materials.
- The remaining fiberglass sections are disposed of in an approved landfill.
- These fiberglass components are classified as nonhazardous construction debris
- A contractor is used to dismantle and remove the turbines
- They determine the final landfill for remaining waste, making sure it meets our requirements for disposal through our waste management procedures and that e the landfill is permitted for proper disposal.
Colorado’s Power Pathway is essentially backbone transmission that covers a broad area and at a minimum, will accommodate roughly 3,000 megawatts of new renewable generation. Winning bids are determined in phase two of our Electric Resource Plan. Phase one has been submitted, which justifies the Company’s resource needs. Phase two includes a formal request for proposal (RFP). Developers will bid on projects across the system, not just the Pathway project. We’ll then analyze those bids and come back with a portfolio of proposed projects based on a variety of criteria. That portfolio of projects, along with alternatives, will be submitted to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for approval. Two generation developers in the same general area may be able to be accommodated depending on the output, specifics of the location and, as part of the RFP, prices determination.
We coordinate our transmission line planning through the Colorado Coordinating Planning Group. There has been some interest expressed by stakeholders in importing and exporting power, but we do not have any specific plans right now.
This is dependent on the technology utilized for the wind or solar project and how long it can last, which could be 15 to 25 years. The term might vary, there are cost tradeoffs, efficiency may decrease over time and newer technology might improve the output. After the term length, the developers already have the land and the transmission infrastructure in place and can repower their facilities and offer it into a subsequent Request for Proposal once the purchase power agreement expires. It's about reusing the land and existing infrastructure instead of building new in the future.
This project is still in the initial phase and not in our base case model. As we get closer to approval, we anticipate it being added in the base case model for study through the large-generation interconnection process as early as the fall. Developers interested in interconnecting would go through our Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process by submitting an interconnection request and becoming part of a cluster study of all the other projects looking to interconnect.
Xcel Energy builds, maintains and offers wind generation bids into some Electric Resource Plans. Our ability to do so as allowed under state statute is that we can own a certain percentage of the resource of the total. We must be competitive with our bid during phase two of the Electric Resource Plan. If we have some of the more competitive bid responses, we may be included in the preferred portfolio or alternative portfolios. At that point, we will be looking at building additional wind. We do own two wind farms in Colorado - Rush Creek and Cheyenne Ridge.
This project will help to enable future renewable energy interconnections around the state. The project will provide access to existing transmission lines in the Pueblo area and along the Front Range. Additionally, the segment between the Tundra Segment and the Front Range will lay the foundation should a decision be made to build transmission out of the San Luis Valley solar area.
Battery installations can store energy. We store excess energy from wind and solar to use when it is not available, offsetting the intermittency of those energy sources while still using clean electricity. Battery energy storage is the most common type of storage facility proposed by developers due to cost efficiencies. However, there are other types of storage being considered including compressed air, storage related to molten salt and several other technologies which are still being explored.
One purpose of this project is for developers to have an opportunity to interconnect. We suspect that once the project is approved, there will be an increased interest in developing wind and solar projects within the state.
Colorado’s Power Pathway is just the transmission backbone. The energy generation project, including the storage project, will be identified in the Request for Proposal process during phase two of the Electric Resource Plan. It will probably be 2022 or 2023 before those specific projects are identified. Aside from the Electric Resource Plan filed in March, Xcel Energy filed a Colorado Energy Plan with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in 2018, which was approved. That included a battery storage facility in conjunction with the two solar projects being built in Pueblo.
As shown by the Energy Resource Zones and generation development area maps, eastern Colorado does not have a high-level of solar capability. During the bid process in phase two of the Electric Resource Plan, all proposed projects will be evaluated from a cost-benefit perspective. If a solar project in eastern Colorado meets the requirements of the resource portfolio and the portfolio receives Colorado Public Utilities Commission approval, it could be awarded a Power Purchase Agreement.
Many nuclear power facilities across the country were built a long time ago. Xcel Energy has nuclear facilities as part of our Northern States Power Operating Company, but a different set of technology was being used at that time. Opportunities may exist as new technologies emerge, but there are still many hurdles associated with nuclear power, including public perception. As nuclear technology evolves, it's certainly something Xcel Energy will explore further.
New transmission capacity provided by Pathway lines will not have any significant impact on existing eastern Colorado transmission lines. This is because the Pathway Project is a backbone transmission system to transport electric power directly and expressly from the renewable resources in eastern, southeastern and southern Colorado to the existing Front Range transmission system
Throughout the central U.S., extremely cold weather in February 2021 substantially drove up demand for natural gas and electricity, resulting in a dramatic short-term increase in market prices for utilities. Despite bitter cold across much of the country, Xcel Energy’s electric and natural gas systems across our entire service territory held up very well given the strain of extremely high demand. Our top priority during extreme weather is to ensure all customers have reliable access to heat and electricity so they could remain safe.
The investments we have made in our infrastructure have positioned us well to provide reliable service during such frigid conditions. In Colorado, we’ve invested in natural gas infrastructure reinforcement projects throughout our service territories, allowing for increased capacity and utilizing new technologies such as remote-controlled valves and real-time data reporting to gas control. We’ve also taken steps to improved modeling to better predict energy demand and have procured mobile compressed natural gas units as an additional safeguard to use in extreme situations.
During February’s cold snap, wind production across Xcel Energy's service territory was low for periods of time because extreme cold is often accompanied by very low wind speeds. Xcel Energy has led the industry in integrating wind energy into our system, and given that it is dependent on the weather, we do not rely on it as an on-demand resource. When situations like extreme cold arise, when low wind speeds align with high demand, the system relies on other generation resources, such as natural gas, to meet the needs of our customers. We plan for this and do not rely on wind in these cases.
Natural gas remains an important backup fuel when renewables are unavailable and serves as a bridge fuel as we continue to work toward a vision of producing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. We will need new, always-available carbon-free technologies to reach our 2050 vision, and we are open to any solutions that may be developed, including hydrogen, advanced nuclear and carbon capture technologies, just to name a few.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is an independent system operator, membership-based nonprofit corporation, governed by a board of directors and subject to oversight by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Legislature. Its members include consumers, cooperatives, generators, power marketers, retail electric providers, investor-owned electric utilities, transmission and distribution providers, and municipally owned electric utilities. Xcel Energy is not a member of ERCOT.
ERCOT’s “retail choice” market was formed after legislators passed laws permitting markets to set the wholesale electricity price and allowing customers to choose their providers. Generators in ERCOT sell electricity on a wholesale basis only. Retailers purchase that electricity, and customers choose which retailer they would like to purchase electricity from.
Past energy constraints in ERCOT were typically limited to summer, but regulators only addressed the incentive structure for generators and the summer shortages. What didn’t happen was winterization after storms in 1998 and 2011.
The Ponnequin Wind Farm is a 25.3-megawatt generation station that came online in the late 1990s as Colorado’s first wind farm. It is in Weld County, just south of the Wyoming state line near Carr, Colorado. It has 44 turbines, 37 of which are owned by Xcel Energy—Colorado.
Wind turbines have a life span of about 20 years, and innovations in wind technology have made Ponnequin’s turbines much less efficient compared to Xcel Energy’s newer wind investments. As a result, operations at Ponnequin were discontinued in 2015. Modern wind energy products use taller towers, larger blades, state-of-the-art wind forecasting and other advanced technology to produce more than 10 times the amount of generation capacity as Ponnequin. Xcel Energy’s newest wind project in Colorado, the Cheyenne Ridge Wind Project placed into service in August 2020, offers 500 MW of capacity from 229 turbines.
Many different options for Ponnequin have been explored, but none have come to fruition. For safety and operational efficiency, Xcel Energy’s policy is to remove retired assets as quickly as possible. Settling parties in the 2014 electric rate case agreed to Ponnequin’s retirement, and no further PUC approval is necessary.
NorthStar Demolition and Remediation Inc. started dismantling the wind farm in Spring 2020, including 37 Xcel Energy-owned turbines and a substation. None of Ponnequin’s equipment is for sale as Xcel Energy plans to use what we can elsewhere and will responsibly dispose the items we are unable to use When demolition is complete, we will terminate leases with the landowners.
A former supplier, Blue Sky Wind LLC, entered an agreement with Xcel Energy in 2017 to explore a potential purchase or third-party sale of used equipment from Ponnequin. No deal was reached, and the negotiations ended in July 2019.
A transmission line is a large lattice or monopole structure that transmits power long distances and at higher voltages. A transmission line connects to a substation that will reduce the high voltage to a distribution level. The lower voltage electricity is then sent to a distribution line, which is designed to bring energy into homes and businesses.
Transmission lines are built and maintained to meet or exceed safety standards, such as those specified by the National Electrical Safety Code and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Every effort is made to ensure safety in construction, operation and maintenance of transmission lines. For information on safe distances for specific activities near the power line, contact the utility operating the line directly. Transmission lines are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions and protective devices at line terminals stop the electricity flow under abnormal operating circumstances.
All powerlines in our system are monitored 24/7 for line contact – meaning an object comes in contact with the transmission line conductors. If there is an unanticipated event in the line, the line is tripped out to protect the public and the line from operating under unsafe conditions. We inspect all our system lines annually to check for line connections and damage. While designing the line, we follow national design standards to ensure the lines are robust and can withstand several extenuating circumstances.
Power lines are inspected regularly (usually during fall or winter months) and by air and ground to look for the following:
- Non-compatible vegetation and hazards within the right-of-way.
- Equipment needing repair or replacement.
- Right-of-way encroachments, which can be hazardous to safety and reliable operations.
- Anything that might jeopardize safe, reliable operation of the power line.
- Utilities must visit the right-of-way for these inspections, but visits may be minimal, and landowners will be contacted prior to inspections or maintenance. However, in cases of emergency, advanced contact may not be possible.
As part of our commitment to regional safety, Xcel Energy has developed a comprehensive program designed to help protect lives, homes and property from the threat of wildfire. While safety has always been our core value, Xcel Energy first launched the Wildfire Protection Program in 2019 to identify, evaluate and proactively minimize the risk of wildfire caused by our infrastructure. The program includes work in 17 Colorado counties.
We recognize that wildfires pose a significant threat to our customers, communities and our state as a whole – and are proactively taking steps to minimize ignition risks associated with operating our system. Our cross-functional Wildfire Mitigation team works together to:
- Accelerate inspections in identified Wildfire Risk Zones—and conduct new and enhanced inspections on equipment—to further identify potential safety concerns.
- Replace equipment and poles that pose an increased risk and explore the use of new technologies to further reduce risk.
- Analyze the strength and ability of transmission and distribution structures to withstand higher than normal wind speeds.
- Conduct enhanced vegetation management in the areas around structures and equipment.
- Improve protocols and fire-safe work practices to minimize wildfire risk.
- Work directly with communities, first responders and other stakeholders to inform, educate and gather feedback for our program.
The new structures will be equipped with shield wires above the energized line; this equipment adds to the structure height but also provides protection against lightning strikes.
For this Project, we will create a safe working space for the construction activities. There may be some areas where tree removal and pruning will be needed, and we will work with the property owners to limit this to the greatest extent possible. Xcel Energy will ensure safety and compliance with internal standards.
Trees growing near power lines can be a safety hazard and are a major contributor to electric service interruptions nationwide—that’s why Xcel Energy prunes and removes trees near power lines in your community. Tree pruning is the selective removal of branches that are not an adequate distance away from power lines, or that will grow too close to the power line before the next maintenance cycle. Our goal is to provide safe, reliable electric service while also taking the best possible care of one of your community’s valuable natural resources.
Trees cause outages in two ways, mechanical and electrical. Mechanical damage refers to entire trees or portions of trees failing and physically damaging facilities (knocking down wires, poles, etc.). Because trees can be conductive, electrical outages can also occur. These interruptions are caused when a portion of a tree becomes a short-circuit path for electricity to flow, causing a protective device to operate and stop the flow of electricity. This could also ignite fires if a spark meets dry debris or fuel. Trees must be maintained at an adequate distance from the conductors to prevent electric service interruptions or ignition.
While we are still in the early planning stages and the transmission lines and pole design have yet to be determined, we anticipate the poles will be steel double-circuit monopole structures.
The structures will vary in height but are expected to be in the range of 120 to 190 feet above ground. An average height of 135 feet for the tangents (which are structures used where the line is straight) is expected.
Transmission-line structures vary in height depending on voltage (size of line), terrain, length of span between structures, sag of the conductor, structure type, and minimum electrical clearance prescribed by the National Electric Safety Code (NESC). Taller structures typically are used when the transmission line crosses other transmission lines, major roadways, or other topographic features.
Since the routes for the transmission lines have yet to be determined, the exact height of the transmission structures is not known at this time. We will provide this information as we complete the routing and design phases.
The right-of-way width required for the proposed 345-kilovolt transmission line is 150 feet. In addition to Colorado's Power Pathway website, you can also find information about the project in our Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity filing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Undergrounding electrical lines is a common topic. The primary issue with burying lines is cost, but there are other significant issues, such as operation and maintenance. Unlike lower-voltage distribution power lines which deliver electricity to homes and business, higher-voltage transmission lines are not frequently installed underground because of several factors, including primarily cost. Underground transmission lines require insulated underground cables and a concrete trench with truck-size manholes along the length of an underground line. An underground transmission line would result in a much wider area of disturbance with concrete installed along the entire route. The visual impact of an underground transmission line can be greater than overhead transmission lines since all vegetation would need to be removed in the right of way.
Who benefits and who pays for undergrounding is an important issue, sometimes involving third-party cost sharing. While underground transmission lines are expected to have fewer weather-related outages, underground lines can still fail. And when outages occur, it takes an average of 8 to 10 days to repair an underground line, instead of hours to repair an overhead line. Also, the lifespan of underground lines is estimated to be about half that of overhead lines.
The life of a transmission project depends on a lot of factors, but primarily how it’s maintained. The initial installation of a transmission line typically lasts from 50 to 80 years, but some transmission lines are over 100 years old. It all depends on line maintenance and weather conditions. There will be miscellaneous maintenance throughout the project life, but a transmission line typically needs to be replaced after roughly 50 to 80 years.
There are typically staging or lay down areas every 20-30 miles along the transmission line route. Staging areas tend to be around 10-40 acres and we work with the community and landowners to find a good location. Materials are usually shipped by truck, but some bigger materials are shipped by rail.
Construction on segments two, three and six is planned to start in 2023, with an in-service date of 2025. Construction on segment one will start in 2024, with an in-service date of 2026. Once segments two, three and six are finished in 2025, construction will start on segments four and five, with an in-service date of 2027.
Substation lighting systems can be designed to reduce their impact on the environment by minimizing the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light (“Light pollution” as defined by the International Dark-sky Association). A minimum amount of lighting is necessary due to regulatory and operational considerations. Efficient fixtures, selected and aimed correctly, and appropriate lighting controls, such as motion activation, are used to minimize the amount of lighting used, the duration of operation and the impact on neighbors. If substation maintenance or repair work is being performed at night, additional lighting may be required while work is taking place.
When spotting the location of pole structures, we evaluate the possibility of keeping them out of flood plain or wet areas. When that isn’t possible, we design the structure foundation to account for the soil conditions at the site, which includes water saturation or standing water level. Xcel Energy currently has structures in saturated soils and standing water throughout our utility footprint and has experience constructing and maintaining the structures in those conditions.
The distance between transmission poles, or span length, varies and is based on voltage and pole height. The typical span length for Colorado’s Power Pathway is anticipated to be 950 feet.
Foundation size and depth is highly dependent on soil conditions. Assuming average strength-soil conditions, foundation depth will likely range between 20 to 40 feet deep.
Transmission lines are structurally designed according to the National Electric Safety Code (NESC), which primarily references standards from the American Society of Civil Engineers on structural loading. The NESC requires structures over 60 feet tall to be able to resist the loading from various ice and wind scenarios. Transmission lines follow these criteria, while distribution lines are typically shorter and therefore are not required to follow the structural loading criteria.
The base design wind speed for eastern Colorado is 90 MPH. This wind speed is part of an equation that also considers terrain, span length between structures and height of the structure to produce an overall wind pressure applied to the wires and the structure of the transmission line. These factors essentially increase the wind pressure applied on the structure as you go up in height. However, the structural capacity of a transmission pole is more typically controlled by the icing conditions on the wire as opposed to the wind blowing on the wires and structure, since the heavy ice greatly increases the tension in the wires and therefore the loading on the structure. The result of this design scenario is that transmission lines typically have additional structural capacity for much higher wind speeds than the NESC requires because of the accounted for icing conditions.
We are actively discussing the use of public power shut offs and the potential effect on homes, businesses and critical hospital, fire and police operations. Xcel Energy uses current industry wildfire best practices, as well as our own Wildfire Mitigation Plan, when deciding to provide this essential service to customers.