Xcel Energy implements natural gas “moratorium” in Fraser Valley

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by Marissa Lorenz
Xcel Energy, Grand County’s only natural gas provider, initiated meetings with the towns of Winter Park and Fraser this week, calling attention to a critical inability to provide service to new development throughout much of the Fraser Valley.

A team of five Xcel directors joined the Winter Park Board of Trustees in person on Tuesday and the Fraser Board of Trustees via Zoom on Wednesday to answer questions about “gas constraints or capacities,” according to Iffie Jennings, Area Manager of Community Relations, to communicate Xcel’s “plan to move forward and how [Xcel] plans to partner with our customer community as well as the Board[s] of Trustees, and to give more information about how it impacts [the communities] directly.”

Kelly Flenniken, Director of Community Relations, presented a PowerPoint presentation to each Board, identifying the impacted area as running from the south end of Fraser through much of Winter Park and including both incorporated and unincorporated lands in between.

“What it boils down to is there were very rapid increases in gas capacity that really did supersede and outpace development models that we had been using within the company,” Flenniken explained to the Fraser Board. “Really, our models were not really reflective of what we were seeing in the community and what you were seeing from your perspective.”

Peter Schmidt, Senior Manager of Design, indicated that he had noted concern in early May and begun looking for possible solutions to supply issues in the Valley.

On May 10, he stated, he “put our designers on notice that they were to hold off on any additional approvals [for new service.”
And on June 7, Xcel “moved forward with official communication that the concerns were real and that, in order to ensure that we are able to serve our current customers and those we’ve already agreed to, we would have to put a hold on those for the future”–effectively instituting what Steve Martz, Senior Director of Gas Engineering, referred to as a “moratorium.”

Flenniken assured that Xcel was committed to continuing to provide equitable service to existing customers, to serve new construction applications that had already been approved, and to continue to track incoming applications to best
plan for future development.

She presented short-term solutions for each community, including the plan to locate CNG trucks within the Winter Park area and a compressor station in Fraser to “maintain delivery to existing customers.”

The most viable long-term solution, as presented, is to install a high-pressure steel reinforcement main between an existing gas main passing over Corona Pass and a newly proposed regulation station in the Valley, to then be distributed through the existing system. The proposed route would pass partially over US Forest Service lands, a process for which permitting can be lengthy and cumbersome.
The presentation was changed after Tuesday night when Winter Park Council members and Developer Clark Lipscomb questioned the practicality of the proposed 4-inch reinforcement main, which may take 1.5 to 2 years to construct and then is estimated to only be viable until the later 2030s.

By Wednesday night, presenters indicated they had already decided to go up to a 6-inch reinforcement in planning and were looking into the option of something even bigger.

Impact to individual projects was not addressed, but other questions raised by trustees and citizens of both towns revolved around why there was not early notice and advanced planning for such an impending situation, whether or not a moratorium was being implemented elsewhere (or ever), and around safety and noise of the temporary solutions.

No satisfactory answers were offered about the lack of foresight, other than the Fraser Valley experiencing “extraordinary”
and unforeseen growth. No other communities are facing the kind of service shortfall that is in the Fraser Valley. Neither safety nor noise around either the CNG trucks or compressor station seemed to be of concern to either employees of Xcel or by East Grand Fire Chief Todd Holzwarth.

Councils were left obviously frustrated and, perhaps, angry with Andy Miller of Fraser even stating that “if we really want to get to a sustainable future, it has to be electricity.”

As a next step, Xcel plans to work with the two communities to next offer an open house for developers, HOAs, and other sector stakeholders to be hosted by Winter Park; date and time, TBD.

For concerns about potential impact and impacted area, reach out to Xcel through their regular application process.