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LPEA substation upgrade on hold

Construction on a La Plata Electric Association Ponderosa Substation upgrade is again on hold — this time due to the impending end of the 2010 construction season and the offer of an alternative site for the facility.

After months of meetings and continuances, the current substation plan was given the “green light” by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners Aug. 3 with the granting of a Conditional Use Permit for the project, however construction has not moved forward.

“With winter quickly approaching, beginning construction this late in the season would require LPEA members in western Archuleta to receive their electricity from a temporary system configuration that we feel may be unreliable through the peak electricity usage months of December and January,” said Jake Wills, LPEA staff engineer, adding that, to build the new substation, the existing one must be decommissioned and torn down.

Before construction on the new substation could begin, the existing electricity loads being fed from the Ponderosa substation would be transferred to the Pagosa and Piedra substations and to a small, mobile substation.

The delay in construction will also give LPEA staff the chance to evaluate the additional cost and engineering logistics of an alternative site.

Throughout the CUP process, representatives of a neighboring property owner to the south, Parelli Natural Horsemanship, have spoken out at every step of the process, expressing concerns over the size and representation of the project as an expansion (no part of the existing structure will remain upon project completion), as well as the damage to the view from the Parelli Ranch, looking north.

As an option to alleviate the view issues, Parelli has suggested that LPEA use a larger parcel of land located south of U.S. 160, approximately 340 feet from the highway on Parelli property, which would screen the substation from view of the highway.

LPEA is currently in the process of having the site surveyed and topographical work done, Wills said. From there, LPEA will do the civil and electrical engineering work to test the site’s viability.

Should the alternate site be deemed viable, LPEA would immediately begin the process with the county to obtain a CUP for the new site. Should that CUP be approved, construction could begin in May of 2011.

If the alternative site is chosen, the temporary rerouting of the electrical load would not be necessary, Wills said.

Should the alternate site be ruled out as an option or should complications arise during the CUP process, construction on the approved site would begin in May.

As currently approved, the substation upgrade would be built slightly west of the existing substation, on the same site west of town adjacent to U.S. 160.

The approved substation will double the existing 7 MVA (mega volt ampere) capacity to 14 MVA.

The existing substation serves the area from Harman Park south of Pinon Drive and the majority of western Archuleta County. The new substation would increase redundancy to other substations, and serve the Vista and Lake Forest areas, serving approximately 2,750 LPEA customers.

The new substation will be roughly 230 feet by 260 feet in terms of its physical footprint, said project engineer Jake Wills previously.

Ron Meier, LPEA manager of engineering, previously said the new substation would “basically utilize the entire parcel of land” owned by LPEA. The parcel is 3.12 acres.

Construction for the project would likely be a six-month process.

While much ado has surrounded the Ponderosa Substation project, little by way of information has been disseminated about another, smaller substation being built at the intersection of South Pagosa Boulevard and Dichoso Street.

LPEA will host an informational, town hall-style meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 in the Ross Aragon Community Center cafeteria to inform interested members of the public about that project, share the need for it, and to gather community input.

All residents of the Meadows I subdivision will be invited, as well as members of the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners and the Pagosa Springs Town Council.

The general public is invited to the meeting, though those interested in attending are asked to R.S.V.P. to Lorraine Gurule at LPEA’s Pagosa Springs office at 382-7168.

randi@pagosasun.com