Colorado Public Works Journal, Spring 2024

“We are planning to have our first new lines in service by 2025. So that is just about a year out,” continues Velasquez Horvath. “The plan is to have the entire line in service by 2027, which is well within reach. I think it’s important to note that in addition to clean energy, this project also provides a substantial, sustainable revenue stream for the counties in the form of property tax and payments to affected landowners.” As an example of what to expect, Velasquez Horvath points to a recent renewable energy project on the eastern plains as the tip of the iceberg. In 2020, Xcel completed Cheyenne Ridge, a wind power project in Cheyenne and Kit Carson County. That project generates 500 megawatts, enough electricity to power 270,000 average Colorado homes. Over its lifetime, Cheyenne Ridge will produce an estimated $107 million in landowner payments and $29 million in new tax revenue for surrounding communities. More than 200 workers were involved in building the project, and Xcel created 24 full-time operations and maintenance jobs to maintain the assets. When fully built out to capacity, the Colorado Power Pathway intends to transmit 11 times that amount of clean energy. “Working toward our 2030 goal for 80 percent clean energy in Colorado, we are looking at putting in 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy generation,” says Velasquez Horvath of Xcel’s near-term objectives. “There are a lot of jobs and positive economic impacts that will enhance life on the eastern plains as these communities become vital players in the new energy economy.” Asked about challenges, Velasquez Horvath points out a few. Snaking 550 miles of high-intensity infrastructure through 12 distinct jurisdictions is no small undertaking. Xcel’s present focus is on understanding the specifics of each county’s permitting requirements and the nuances of each commissioner’s office along the route. “When Xcel secured the Colorado Public Utilities Commission’s approval for this project, we made a series of commitments in terms of meeting a specific timeline and staying within budget,” says Velasquez Horvath. “We applied for this in March of 2021. At the time, no one could have projected the inflation rates or supply chain issues that have occurred since.” In partnership with Quanta Services, Xcel is currently on track to meet all milestones and budget objectives. Quanta Services provides infrastructure services for electric power, pipeline, industrial and commercial industries. Quanta is leading the build-out effort on the Colorado Power Pathway project and working with Xcel to ensure the workforce meets IBEW union requirements for fair wages and labor standards. Like all forms of infrastructure, the electrical grid must be maintained. As electricity becomes ever-more important, it also becomes increasingly complicated to keep up with the demand. “Xcel Energy has served Colorado customers for nearly 150 years. So, much of our existing equipment is easily 50 years old,” explains Velasquez Horvath. “As we move toward a new push/ pull energy economy, where power travels from rural areas to cities and from individually owned rooftop solar back into the grid, we need to think what the green energy future will look like.” At present, generally, electricity isn’t being wasted because the demand is so high that it’s hard to oversell. However, as more buildings, homes, and venues integrate private, onsite energy generation, the time-of-use cycle of demand will shift, leading to conversations about effective onsite storage, rates-of-pay, and grid-aware architecture. “What I love about working at Xcel is the challenge,” finishes Velasquez Horvath. “From government to private industry, project partners, and the public, Xcel works with a full spectrum of stakeholders to solve complex interconnected issues in infrastructure, energy, business, policy, and everyday life. Xcel Energy plans to be here for another 150 years, so these relationships must thrive. We have a responsibility to be good citizens for our communities.”