BY FREDA MIKLIN – GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
On April 6, Centennial District One City Councilmembers Kathy Turley and Candace Moon held a virtual town hall meeting. One of the topics covered was the Greenwood to Denver Terminal Project, a plan by Xcel Energy to rebuild and reconductor 15.4 miles of existing 115 kilovolt (kV) transmission facilities to resume operations at 230 kV, double the previous level. The project is located within existing 75-foot rights-of-way and easements that were purchased by Xcel in 1953 and activated a year later, then deactivated in the early 1990s due to insufficient usage. Although the affected transmission lines intersect six area municipalities, Centennial is the only place through which they cross a significant amount of residential area over the 3.5 miles of the lines inside city boundaries.
During the virtual town hall meeting, Kelly Flenniken, Xcel’s director of community relations, explained that the project was necessary to add needed capacity and to upgrade the transmission system to address Xcel’s renewable energy goals. The company has pledged to use 80 percent renewable energy, including wind and solar, by 2030.
Several residents expressed concern about rules around vegetation management required with the new lines. Tom Henley, Xcel’s community and government affairs manager, explained that the company is still trying to work out the final details of vegetation management with all parties, including individual homeowners. When a resident expressed concern “about the drastic amount of vegetation that I’ve been told will be removed, “ and that, “It sounds like this plan is based on environmental principles and yet it doesn’t feel like removing all of this vegetation is very good for the environment…I have shrubs and bushes that barely grow given our climate and drought situation that they say will need to be removed because they may eventually hit ten feet,” Fletcher Johnson, Xcel’s director of vegetation management and ancillary programs explained, “The way the line will be constructed, the structures will be 800 feet apart. With that, the lines cannot be strung taught, they have a sag to them. We have to manage hardscape with softscape to account for how trees move in the wind along with the dynamic nature of how power lines move in the wind and temperature changes. We are managing vegetation to make sure it is not a safety concern or a reliability risk for the state. Vegetation touching a power line is not compatible. These lines are subject to regulations with which we must maintain compliance. The way we do that is through a prudent vegetation management program. … Everyone’s trees on their properties will be different.”
Another resident wanted to know whether, “Centennial (had) considered undergrounding its lines like Greenwood Village to address equity issues between the cities?” Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko said, “We will have to defer to Xcel because that would be a lot more complicated project.” Larry Claxton, Xcel project manager, responded, “To underground these lines would require up to 100 feet of width (the current easement is 75 feet wide) and would require getting rid of all the vegetation. These (plans) were approved by the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) as an overhead line. We would have to go back to the PUC for approval to underground them.” Asked how Greenwood Village undergrounded their lines, Henley explained that there was probably a local improvement district that was paid for by the residents or the city.
Another concern expressed was that the power lines run above the playground at Lenski Elementary School in the Littleton Public Schools district. Although the school was built in1979, long after the power lines were in place, Xcel told The Villager that the electro-magnetic fields are well below the PUC threshold.
When a resident expressed concern that, “we as homeowners (could) expect a devaluation of our properties of 20% due to this project,” Councilmember Candace Moon responded that, “The city doesn’t see property values, that is done by Arapahoe County. When you get your property value this spring, if you believe the power poles have increased or decreased your property value, you should contact the county.”
Xcel representatives will continue to have individual construction meetings with Centennial residents to discuss actual impacts to landscaping as they finalize their vegetation policy. They pledged to also conduct larger group meetings in the field to talk to residents about the impact of the project on trees.
Construction is planned for June-December 2021 with in-service of the power lines anticipated in December 2022.