I agree with the mayor and City Council that the hydropower project needs to be approved. This is a green project that saves 5 million pounds of coal a year. And, this helps reduce global warming.
This use of water from Castle and Maroon creeks is nonconsumptive. In other words, all of the water taken out is returned to streamflow after 2.4 miles. And, a sliding scale of water is temporarily diverted so that as natural streamflow decreases, nonconsumptive diversion decreases. As well, ground seepage is reduced.
Hydropower in Aspen began in 1892 when Aspen became the fourth city west of the Mississippi with an advanced hydropower system. Hydro continued for 65 years until 1957 when the city of Aspen decided to buy cheap federally subsided power from the Bureau of Reclamation with wheeling charges billed through Holy Cross. At that time, city costs were 1.1 cents per kilowatt hour and the bureau subsidized charge was 0.8 cents.
As further described in Jim Markalunas’ book “Recollections of Aspen,” the actual switch was pulled on Jan. 24, 1958, by his wife, Ramona. Clean hydropower from Castle and Maroon creeks had worked for at least 65 years.
However, over Labor Day week in 1961, a freak snowstorm totaling 27 inches downed trees which cut power to Aspen from the Basalt substation. For Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aspen had no electric power. Jim was dispatched by Aspen’s mayor Garrish to start up the old hydropower plant, which he did. This demonstrates the self-sufficiency of hydropower for Aspen. That self-sufficiency applies not just to bad weather, but in cases of terrorism to power grids that are miles away or national disasters.
The increasing costs of hydro have been ballyhooed by opponents, forgetting that much of this increase has been caused by continued reviews and interest charges caused by their delays. In addition, these costs are paid off in 20-22 years of amortization and the hydro plant is paid for. Yet the prior hydro plant was used for 65 years, so there are many decades of low cost following once the payoff occurs. The opponents want us to continue to pay forever with costs increasing year by year for coal or other carbon fuels such as gas.
And, there are conflicts of interest. Bill Koch, the billionaire second homeowner at the former Elk Mountain Lodge, owns the Oxbow Corporation, which owns Somerset coal mines over McClure Pass. Hydro opponents have claimed funding from Koch’s citizens organizations. Certainly that reflects Koch’s conflicts of interest to protect his coal marketed for electric power plants.
The mayor, City Council and city manager are unanimously if favor of hydro.