Shoshone critical for future water needs

By electrical generation standards, the Shoshone hydroelectric plant, tucked beneath Interstate 70’s elevated westbound lane in Glenwood Canyon, is a small asset in Xcel Energy’s portfolio.

It generates 15 megawatts of power and helps Xcel show a commitment to green energy. But the value of the plant’s senior water rights is nearly incalculable. The rights to those flows are the lynchpin in the complicated allocation of Colorado River water, and Western Slope interests are starting to cast a wary eye to the future.

What happens if, or when, Xcel decides to sell the plant? The rights are tied to the generation of electricity. To preserve the current flow of water, someone would have to buy the plant and continue operating it. In a hypothetical scenario, Front Range interests could buy Shoshone just to shut it down and retire its water rights, thus enabling water diversions to junior rights holders for municipal purposes on the other side of the state.

The Sentinel’s Dennis Webb examined the issue thoroughly in Monday’s edition. For its part, Xcel hasn’t announced intentions to do anything with the plant. It spent $12 million making repairs in 2007 and plans to keep it running based on that investment, an official with the company said.

But the Shoshone flows are so important to Western Slope governments, irrigation districts and recreational interests that officials are exploring the idea of an outright purchase.

The issue is timely. Gov. John Hickenlooper wants a state water plan in place by next year that addresses the anticipated gap between statewide supply and demand. As part of that effort, Glenwood Springs engineer Louis Meyer is doing public outreach in support of a Colorado River Basin plan. He said there’s consensus in support of Western Slope entities pooling resources to buy the plant.

Such a plan wouldn’t be cheap, but we think it’s well worth the investment. We encourage our local governments to collaboratively assess financing options and be ready to pounce if Xcel ever decides to sell.

Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, says Xcel understands that operating the plant and maintaining the status quo is the preferred option.

But that’s hardly a guarantee in a very uncertain world.

Our hope is that the utility — as part of a good-neighbor policy and in recognition of its history of serving the Western Slope — is receptive to proactively negotiating a memorandum of understanding that would give a Western Slope coalition a right of first refusal to buy the plant should Xcel decide to sell it.

Xcel could sell the right, effectively requiring the coalition to provide earnest money toward a future sale. Once an agreement is in place, Western Slope governments could start thinking of the best way to pay for such an acquisition.

Safeguarding our water is worth the cost.


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