In a letter to the editor (“Purpose of hydro to reduce carbon consumption,” Aspen Daily News, Sept. 22) concerning the Castle Creek Energy Center (CCEC), mayor Ireland says, “I believe voters ought to know what the purpose of a project is — in this case, to reduce pollution … We are asking the voters to approve a project designed to reduce consumption of coal.”
While I would argue that it is also about the health of our streams and money, his emphasis on pollution is worth further discussion. I am assuming he is talking about both direct air pollution and CO2 emissions.
The reduction in direct air pollution will have zero impact on Aspen since the coal is not burned here. So it seems to me that concern should be primarily left to the residents of wherever the coal is actually burned. (We can do much more about our local air pollution by getting those dirty diesel truck engines either cleaned up or barred from entry into Aspen.)
The mayor cites a reduction in coal consumption of 5 million pounds resulting from the CCEC. (Firstly, coal is almost never measured in pounds but rather short tons of 2,000 pounds. So let’s drop the sensationalist use of “millions of pounds”). The savings as conventionally measured is 2,500 tons, assuming the mayor’s figures are right.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, for 2010 total U.S. coal consumption was over 1 billion tons (1,048,295,000 tons to be exact). So the CCEC reduction in annual U.S. consumption equals .00024 percent of the total.
Further, CO2 emissions and global warming are in fact, truly a global problem. And I am totally on board with fighting global warming. Again, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says that global coal consumption in 2010 was almost 8 billion tons. Thus, on a global basis the reduction from the CCEC equals .000031 percent.
Looking at these minuscule percentages, it seems to me that the coal reduction from the CCEC is a purely symbolic action. Now I’m in favor of symbolism when appropriate (e.g. let’s turn off the stupid fire pit). But when pure symbolism results in risks to our streams and costs millions of dollars of taxpayer money, it is misplaced.
So to me this is a question of a tradeoff between a purely symbolic benefit to reduce global warming versus potential real risks to our streams and actual millions of taxpayer money.
I am sure that for our millions of taxpayer dollars, and who knows how much spent on both sides of this ballot issue, we could find some ways to actually reduce air pollution in Aspen and at the same time avoid risks to our streams.