Valley commissioners share county challenges

Photo by Patrick Shea Commissioners from all six San Luis Valley counties met in Alamosa on Oct. 24 to discuss budgets, a redundant power transmission line, and Rio Grande Basin fish.

ALAMOSA — County commissioners gathered in Alamosa and via ZOOM on Oct. 24 for presentations and discussions about issues spanning counties across the San Luis Valley.

Chairperson Ramona Weber from Mineral County started the meeting by asking for additions to the agenda. People around the room quickly echoed a request to talk about a redundant power transmission line for the Valley.

“The Public Utilities Commission is opening up a conversation about their future planning,” noted Alamosa County Commissioner Lori Laske later in the meeting. “We want to be sure the San Luis Valley is included.”

Commissioner Laske stressed two key points about a second transmission line for power.

“For one, it will produce redundancy, for safety. As we saw in both Texas and Boulder, we could be cut off from electricity pretty quick,” Laske said. “There’s a bonus to it too. If this transmission line was created, we would be able to export our solar.”

“I look at this as a positive,” noted Rio Grande County Commissioner Scott Deacon.

With 35 years of experience in utilities, Deacon said, “A lot of people don’t understand that all of our transmission lines come in from the north. If something happens up north, we lose it all.”

The current work on existing transmission lines heading north includes upgrades from 69kv to 115kv.

The timeline to give the PUC feedback is short. The process for providing input starts on Dec. 2.

“By January 2, we would need to let them know if we wanted to be what are called ‘interveners’ in this discussion,” Laske explained. “The reason I came to this group is because I don’t think one county can do this. To get an intervener, we would have to put funds together as a whole and pay — most likely an attorney — for someone with a background with the Public Utilities Commissions to be our intervener and watch out for the San Luis Valley.”

Laske encouraged her fellow Valley commissioners to respond quickly because it might be another 10 years before they have another chance to take part in planning. The input window closes Feb. 1, 2023.

Speaking for Senator Michael Bennet, Erin Minks credited State Senator Cleve Simpson for getting the San Luis Valley listed as a miscellaneous item on the PUC agenda in December and January.

“This was something he worked on last spring,” Minks said. “Xcel was originally planning to go forward with their 10-year plan and not even study the Valley.”

Saguache County Commissioner Tom McCracken made a motion to support Alamosa County as the lead group pursuing an intervener for the PUC discussions. After refining the wording slightly, the motion passed.

In addition to other topics, they discussed 14 budget line items they share across counties. The total request from the District Attorney’s office for all six counties, for example, is $2,031,870. Mineral County budgeted $25,000. With the highest population, Alamosa County set aside $732,000.

Following the holidays, the group will meet again on Jan. 23, 2023.

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