Saturday, February 13, 2010

Energy giant vs. small town

Posted By on Sat, Feb 13, 2010 at 10:09 AM

This is a typical David and Goliath story. It's called Black Hills Energy versus Woodland Park, and the public gets to choose sides on Tuesday.

Black Hills told the town's officials many months ago it wanted to install a gas compressor station that would be no larger than a file cabinet in the Stone Ridge Planned Unit Development.

As the months went by, though, the town got more than it bargained for.

"They excavated a trench and poured foundation, footer and disturbed over 2,500 square feet and brought in a machine on a flatbed, hooked it up to a high-pressure gas main," Mayor Steve Randolph says. "Neighbors wondered what was going on. It’s the size of a motor home. Big engine, radiator, stacks and exhaust pipes."

The City Council decided to put the company through the paces after the fact to see if it met the criteria for zoning, conditional use and a building permit.

"This all happened over several months," Randolph says.

Council voted 6-1 to deny the permits, so Black Hills took the case up to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which will hold a public hearing Tuesday at 4 p.m. at City Hall, 220 W. South Ave., Woodland Park.

Black Hills asserts the compressor is needed in extreme cold weather to provide a short-term solution to low-pressure conditions on the company’s gas transmission and distribution system.

In reviewing the appeal, the law requires the PUC to balance local government determinations with the broader statewide interest of meeting growing demands for electric and natural gas service.

Randolph is hopeful but not optimistic that Woodland Park will prevail.

"The pivotal thing here," he says, "is Black Hills claims they will remove this thing once they’ve upgraded their central distribution main from Wyoming to Pueblo. That's a $17 million project. We’re not real confident they’ll do that in a timely manner. It looks like a permanent installation."

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