PUEBLO COUNTY — Pueblo County Commissioners have decided they want more time to allow staff to collect facts and legal advice on the Black Hills Energy proposal to run transmission line towers in western Pueblo County into Fremont County.
Commissioners Terry Hart and Chris Wiseman cited many questions now raised about the plan, including property use concerns, claims of endangered species on the site, and Black Hills Energy now stating it may be possible to run the transmission and distribution lines underground, but at an additional cost of $5 million that will be passed on to customers.
Black Hills Energy is proposing running 39 miles of power lines from Pueblo West to Cañon City in a project called the Cañon West Reliability Project in order to meet power demand and lower costs for customers. The plan includes transmission lines between three new substations in Pueblo West, Penrose, and Cañon City. The stretch through Pueblo West is a little more than 2 miles north of Highway 50.
See map below of current and prior plan
In today's meeting, Commissioner Terry Hart stated support for a further review of the facts and the consideration of a "settlement conversation" between that parties that is overseen by commissioners to come to a compromise. Hart brought forth the motion to continue to matter until September 10 to the next Land Use review meeting. Wiseman seconded the motion.
Commissioner Garrison Ortiz says he is supportive of the route compared to the 2018 proposal and would have voted 'yes' today on the plan.
Commissioner Chris Wiseman admits he wants more information on the potential environmental impacts of the route but said he would have voted yes today on the permit.
Members of the Pueblo West community have raised concerns the path with have a negative impact on the environment and local wildlife. People living in Pueblo West don’t want the above-ground 65-75 foot tall power poles ruining their view or impacting their property values.
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"Don't put it through an area that has environmental concerns, flood concerns, and the possibility of destroying Pueblo West," Melvin Manrose told commissioners in prior sessions. He's just one of those who raise a concern about the transmission towers becoming an eyesore for the community and the natural landscape.
Today, he argues the new plan is just a move to a new neighborhood, but no changes in equipment or process. He referenced the small size of the easement compared to the project plan, a quit claim deed for the build area that states it can only be used for utilities if it benefits the residents adjacent to the land and concerns about wildlife.
Manrose also claims he and other opponents have seen at least 3 endangered species in the area including burrowing owls, red spotted toads, and red racers (also known as a red coachwhip). A check of US Fish & Wildlife shows none are considered an endangered species. Check for yourself on the endangered species site.
John Vigil of Black Hills Energy contends, "If there is any delay in this line being approved this permit being approved customers savings will be reduced from $66 million down to $43 million."
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The plan is to put in between 60-80 poles across Pueblo West to reach Fremont County. Alternatively, the company is open to installing underground transmission lines. However, officials warn that will cost more money and will impact customers due to the potential $5 million dollar additional price tag. Back in 2018, the company stated running the line underground is not common in the area and is not something the company does.
Vigil told commissioners Black Hills is "very, very sensitive to the cost impacts on customers." He also added that Pueblo West needed this transmission line and the expanded capacity due to growth.
The permit currently up for a vote by commissioners does not include the possibility of an underground transmission system and would need further conversations.
Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart told those at the meeting that this is not a "winners and losers" proposition, instead, both sides should work together to find a compromise. Hart also stated he has driven the area multiple times while considering the proposal and does not believe this is the best option. He would prefer a plan that uses Highway 50 as a route to reduce impacts.
There is a lot of information to digest in this permitting process. All of the documentation can be found here - Pueblo County website.
This issue goes back several years as Black Hills has worked to improve the transmission and distribution system in the area. Commissioners rejected an earlier proposal. The current proposal has the transmission towers located in a different area of Pueblo West.
Black Hills says this upgrade is needed to:
- Provide additional power sources and enhanced reliability in Pueblo and Fremont Counties
- Safeguard against total power losses
- Drive economic growth and community prosperity
The Pueblo County Commissioners meeting was moved to the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center to allow for the number of people who want to attend the important session. It begins at 9:30 a.m. and can be viewed on the Pueblo County Facebook page.
Map of the originally proposed transmission line: