Friday, December 10, 2010

Xcel Cuts Solar Commitments in San Luis Valley

Xcel Energy recently asked state regulators to let the utility pursue less solar power in the San Luis Valley in the short term.

In a Colorado Public Utilities Commission filing late last month, the utility called for tabling larger proposals until at least 2016 due to the low cost of natural gas and delays over a proposed transmission line.

"We have a responsibility to our customers to secure the best cost," Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said Thursday.

The move would end the utility's negotiations with an unidentified company for a proposed $2.5 billion, 125-megawatt solar plant in the valley.

Smaller proposals from Lincoln Renewables and NextEra Energy Resources also would get tabled or the companies would need to find other buyers for their power.

Two other pending proposals in Saguache County — a 145-megawatt plant proposed by Tessera Solar and a 200-megawatt plant by SolarReserve — face the same scenario.

Going forward, Xcel would monitor similar large-scale projects in the western U.S. and hope to eventually benefit from what appears to be declining costs of solar technology, the utility said.

Xcel seeks to limit its short-term plans to two projects totaling 60 megawatts.

North Carolina-based Cogentrix Energy and Oregon-based Iberdrola Renewables have both signed contracts with Xcel to develop 30-megawatt solar plants in Alamosa County by 2012.

Beyond that, Xcel would not acquire more solar projects until at least 2016, according to the filing.

Xcel's declared pullback was met with skepticism by representatives of Trinchera Ranch, which supports solar but opposes Xcel's preferred route for where a major transmission line would go.

A spokesman for the 172,000-acre ranch, which sits in the path of the proposed transmission line, argued the utility's long-term plan remains to pursue large-scale solar power.

Stutz said the ranch's opposition to the transmission line was a factor in Xcel's scaled-back plans. "They fail to recognize that or even acknowledge they have any role in it," Stutz said.


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