RAPID/BulkTransmission/Land Use/Colorado

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Bulk Transmission Land Use in Colorado

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State Land Use Process

Land use planning in Colorado is primarily delegated to local governments pursuant to CRS 29-20-101. Planning jurisdictions include 64 counties and 271 incorporated municipalities. Under 29-20-105 planning commissions adopt land use plans called “master” or “comprehensive” plans.

Colorado does not have a state-administered siting act for high-voltage transmission lines. The role of the state in permitting high-voltage transmission lines is limited to 1) issuing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), typically prior to the siting and permitting processes, and 2) reviewing and resolving siting cases if a utility appeals local government decisions. A CPCN is a written application that is submitted to the CPUC, that provides details about the proposed project includes background information, purpose and need statement, system planning information, and possible impacts from the proposed project. The contents of the CUP are described in more detail below.

Colorado laws and CPUC rules require that an electric utility seeking to construct and operate a transmission line must first obtain a CPCN, unless the PUC determines that construction of the transmission line is in the ordinary course of business in which case the CPCN would not be required.[1] The ordinary course of business means the usual transactions, customs and practices of a certain business and of a certain firm. The local government-administered siting process begins after a CPCN is issued.

Utilities may appeal any decision made by a local government authority that has the effect or result of denying a permit or application for a major electrical facility. This also includes decisions that imposes requirements or conditions upon such permit or application that will unreasonably impair the ability of the utility to provide safe, reliable, and economical service to the public. [2] To appeal a local government action, one of the following conditions must be met:

  • The utility has applied for or has obtained a CPCN from the CPUC to construct the major electrical facility that is the subject of the local government action
  • A CPCN is not required for the utility to construct the major electrical facility that is the subject of the local government action
  • The PUC has previously entered an order that conflicts with the local government action.[3]

CPUC Rule 3703 outlines specific information required in an appeal application to the PUC including:

  • Background information.
  • A statement of reasons the utility believes the local government action would unreasonably impair its ability to provide safe, reliable, and economical service to the public.
  • The demonstrated need for the proposed project.
  • The extent to which the proposed project is inconsistent with applicable local or regional land use ordinances, resolutions, or master or comprehensive plans.
  • Systems planning and engineering information.
  • The merit of any reasonably available and economically feasible alternatives proposed by the utility or the local government.
  • The impact that the local government action would have on customers of the utility who reside within and without the boundaries of the jurisdiction of the local government.
  • The basis for the local government action (including a copy of the action if available).
  • The impact the proposed project would have on residents within the local government’s jurisdiction, including whether residents have already paid to place such facilities underground. If the residents have already paid to place the proposed facilities underground, the PUC will give strong consideration to that fact.
  • Information about public safety.
  • An attestation that the utility will send a copy of the application to the local government body that took the action and that is the subject of the appeal application at the same time the appeal application is filed.

The Commission will hold a pre-hearing conference within 15 days after the appeal application is complete. The pre-hearing conference must include the local government and PUC representatives.

The Commission will deny an appeal if the utility has failed to comply with the following notification and consultation requirements:

  • A utility shall notify the affected local government of its plans to site a major electrical facility within its jurisdiction prior to submitting the preliminary or final permit application, but in no event later than filing a request for a CPCN, or the filing of any annual filing with the PUC that proposes or recognizes the need for a new major electrical facility or an extension of an existing facility. If the utility is not required to obtain a CPCN, or to file annually with the PUC of the proposed construction of major electrical facilities, the utility must notify any affected local government of its intention to site a new facility or expand an existing facility when such utility determines that it intends to proceed to permit and construct that facility.
  • Following notification, the utility must consult with the local governments to identify potential sites or routes for the proposed facility and to attempt to resolve any land use issues. The utility must identify a preferred alternative within its permit application, and consider and present reasonable siting and design alternative to the local government or explain why no reasonable alternatives are available.[3]

Local Land Use Process

Under state law, Colorado counties and municipalities are given broad authority to plan for and regulate the use of land within their jurisdictions.[1] State statutes give local governments (counties and municipalities) the authorization to;

  • Appoint planning commissions [2] which are required to prepare and adopt master plans or comprehensive plans for physical development within their jurisdictions [3]. These regulations apply unless the county population is less than 15,000 people. In these cases, the board of county commissioners acts as the planning commission or may appoint a separate body to do so. Master plan or comprehensive plans may contain information relevant to the siting of high-voltage transmission lines.
  • Establish zoning districts for land use regulation.[4][5] Local government zoning codes may contain information relevant to the siting of high-voltage transmission lines.
  • Adopt subdivision regulations. Subdivision regulations are required of counties[6] and are optional for municipalities.[7] Subdivision regulations may contain information relevant to the siting of high-voltage transmission lines.
  • Regulate matters of statewide interest.[1]

In 1974, HB 1041 was enacted which allows local governments to voluntarily adopt regulations to identify, designate, and regulate through permitting “areas and activities of state interest” which are defined by the statute.[8] Route selection and construction of major facilities of a public utility are considered an activity of state interest. “Major facilities of a public utility” is defined in the statute to include transmission lines, power plans, and substations of electrical utilities [9], but the definition of “transmission lines” by voltage may vary by local government. Many, but not all , local governments in Colorado have adopted such “1041 regulations” and require “1041 permits” or “Areas and Activities of State Interest” permits for required activities. Some counties require a 1041 permit in addition to another permit, such as a Special Use or Conditional Use permit. Local governments that have not adopted 1041 regulations have various land use permitting requirements for transmission lines that include Conditional Use Permits, Special Use Permits, or other land use permits. Specific requirements of local government 1041 regulations vary, but 1041 permitting processes are governed by time limits identified in state law. Local governments must make final decisions within 120 days of the utility's submission of a preliminary application (if required), or within 90 days after submission of a final application. The time periods begin when the application deemed complete according to the rules of the local government. If an application is deemed incomplete, the local government must notify the applicant of the information required to complete the application within 28 days of the application submittal. If the local government does not take final action within the applicable time frames, the application shall be deemed approved.[10] Links to examples of local government 1041 regulations are provided on the website of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.[11]

Policies & Regulations

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