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Consumer Groups Cry Foul on Utility-Grid Merger Plans

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission would have to approve a privately negotiated deal between utility companies to connect with the Southwest Power Pool based in Arkansas. (Pixabay)
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission would have to approve a privately negotiated deal between utility companies to connect with the Southwest Power Pool based in Arkansas. (Pixabay)
February 1, 2018

DENVER — Utility companies in Colorado are making plans to join a regional power grid based in Arkansas, and consumer groups are raising red flags.

Xcel Energy, Black Hills Energy, the Western Area Power Administration and Colorado Springs Utilities are proposing to hook up with Little Rock-based Southwest Power Pool. But Bill Levis, lead advocacy volunteer with AARP Colorado, said the move would strip the state of local regulatory control.

"It's important that the Legislature look at this, and that consumer groups also have input as to whether this makes sense,” Levis said. “If Colorado were to join such a group, it would increase the cost to consumers by tens of millions of dollars."

The private utility companies see the move as a way to better coordinate their operations across multiple states, increase their revenues, and also deliver renewable energy generated in places like Colorado to other states. Levis said he’s concerned that Colorado rate-payers could end up footing the bill for thousand-mile transmission lines and power upgrades in other states.

Levis said the negotiations have taken place largely between the energy companies without input from consumer groups. He said AARP and others are ramping up efforts to get the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take a closer look at the impact on rate-payers before approving the proposal.

"The problem is that the utilities are already saying this is basically a done deal,” he said. “So the earlier consumers get involved, the better."

The companies are targeting the end of 2018 or early 2019 to launch the project. FERC is likely to consider the proposal this summer, and the PUC is set to hold a hearing in the third quarter of this year.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO