Behind the Headlines: Michael E. Diehl |

Behind the Headlines: Michael E. Diehl

Q. What is the timeline for the decision-making process regarding Hayden Station coal delivery alternatives?

A. We are processing the data gathered from the Jan. 14 public open house. We will follow up the open house within one month by communicating a summary of the results to the folks in the study area via a newsletter.

We are about to begin a detailed environmental analysis of the study area, which will take two or three months. We will develop an economic, engineering, right-of-way, legal/permitting analysis within that period of time, or a bit longer.

We should have a detailed alternatives analysis by the end of June or the first part of July this year. We will communicate the results of that analysis either by newsletter or by hosting another open house in June or July of this year.

After that communication, we will determine the preferred alternative and start developing a permit application to submit to Routt County this fall.

Q. Do some factors in the decision-making process weigh more heavily than others, and if so, how are those factors prioritized?

A. The various decision-making factors are not given weights.

As the factors are analyzed, the results are studied by professionals associated with each factor. One aspect of the environmental decision-making factor may trump one aspect of the economic decision-making factor. For example, if during the environmental analysis an endangered wildlife or plant species habitat is discovered that covers a significant area of the least expensive alternative, and mitigation is not possible, a fatal flaw exists, and that alternative is not considered further.

Another example is if during the legal/permit analysis, it is discovered that the Colorado Department of Transportation will not allow an “at-grade” crossing of U.S. Highway 40 with a railroad spur. This will have an impact on the economic analysis in that a “separated-grade” crossing will be more expensive.

Different aspects of the various decision-making factors are all studied relative to their significance and impact on the environment, economics, public acceptance, etc. An analysis of these aspects and factors is done by a professional siting and permitting agent like me, and results are communicated to the public and to management of Xcel Energy/Public Service Co. of Colorado. A decision is then made to pursue a particular alternative.

Q. Once an alternative is chosen as the best possible one, what exactly is the approval process?

A. We believe a conditional-use permit is required by Routt County. If a conditional-use permit is required, Xcel will submit an application for a conditional-use permit to the Routt County Planning Department. Various county, state and federal agencies might be involved in reviewing our application.

After this review, the Planning Department will determine if the application is ready to be scheduled for a county Planning Commission public hearing and a Board of County Commissioners’ public hearing. The public is invited to comment one last time at these hearings. The Board of County Commissioners is the decision-making body that will approve, approve with conditions, or deny the application. If the application is approved with unreasonable conditions or denied, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission might be brought into the decision-making process.

Q. With a new coal provider and/or coal hauling method, how much does Xcel anticipate saving?

A. Millions of dollars could be saved and a reliable source of coal for the future could be secured. The reliability of the fuel-delivery system to the plant, however; is of equal importance as any potential savings.

Q. Why is it so important to find an alternative source of coal? Is Xcel obligated by law or otherwise to search for the least expensive coal and coal-delivery methods?

A. We are regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, who obligates us to produce electricity as economically as possible. We also are monitored by the Office of Consumer Council, a consumer watchdog group that analyzes our activities and frequently reports to the Public Utilities Commission, so that our activities are in the best interest of our customers and ratepayers. Another reason it is important to find an alternative source of coal is that the current provider of coal to Hayden Station could be running out of economically retrievable reserves.

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