A day after Xcel Energy won a preliminary permit to begin a feasibility study on a proposed controversial hydropower project in Unaweep Canyon, the company has pulled out of it.
In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved that permit on Tuesday, the company told the commission Wednesday that it no longer plans to pursue the project. In a follow-up press release, Xcel noted concerns with the location of the project.
“As part of Xcel Energy’s commitment to clean and reliable energy, the company is exploring a number of energy storage technologies and will continue to evaluate pumped storage as a potential option. However, internal research identified multiple concerns with the potential site located in Mesa County and it is no longer being considered,” the release said.
The permit did not allow the utility to start construction on the project, but only to complete a feasibility study about where it would be located and how it would be built, among other details.
The project, which was to generate up to 800 megawatts of energy, called for the construction of two reservoirs on top of the canyon and on the canyon floor.
The project called for using about 4,900-feet of pipeline, a 96-foot dam on top of the mesa and a 73-foot dam on the bottom. Water was to be piped uphill only to be used to flow downhill to generate electricity.
Known as a closed-loop pumped-storage facility, the project also would have needed a 24-mile long transmission line to transfer the power to an existing substation, and a 19-mile long pipeline from the Gunnison River near Whitewater to deliver water to it.
It also called for a steel-lined 4,990-foot long underground water conduit system, three turbines and a pump station.
In its original application for the permit, the utility said the project was needed as a backup for power generated by other renewable energy sources that it generates. As a result, it only would be supplying power for up to 10 hours a day, and then only during peak hours. It would have been used to generate enough power to serve about 326,000 homes.
The project drew extensive opposition from recreational and environmental groups that frequent the canyon, and area residents, who feared they could lose their homes to eminent domain because of it.
Earlier this week, the Minneapolis-based utility announced that it plans to discontinue the use of coal by the end of 2030 when it retires what would be its last operating coal-fired plant, the Comanche 3 coal unit, in Pueblo. The company, which operates in eight Midwestern states, added that it expects to generate 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050.