There is much truth in that old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I recently took the time to peruse Google Earth on my iPad and was amazed at the amount of development that has occurred in the Aspen area. There are miles after miles of roads winding through subdivisions surrounding the historic townsite of Aspen, filled with palatial “trophy homes” facing south toward ski runs. All around Aspen and its environs are the scars of development. Only the national forest lands seem to have escaped the inroads of development; ski runs on U.S. Forest Service lands being the exception to the rule. Along both Castle and Maroon creeks and the Roaring Fork River, enclaves of residential development can be seen. The same situation holds true for the Snowmass Ski Area. Development, and more development. Yes, I can empathize with groups like Saving Our Streams that have come out against the city’s hydro plant proposal. But those folks are beating the wrong end of the horse. The bad guy is not the city of Aspen attempting to preserve its historic water rights on Castle and Maroon creeks for clean and renewable power generation, but rather, all of us who in some manner consume electric energy, be it heating our homes and driveways, making ice for drinks or watching television.
You name it — it takes electric energy, unless you are still burning candles. “We are the enemy and he is us.” Our lifestyle takes electrical energy and this energy must come either from a clean and renewable backyard source or an outside carbon-emitting source. As evidenced by the private jets parked on the runway at Sardy Field, or by the car in our driveway, somehow, somewhere, you and I both have contributed to global warming. That said, what are you and I, as residents of Aspen, willing to do about it?
Many years ago (over 50), Aspen was completely independent of “the grid.” We had our own hydroelectric plant for which we paid $250,000 — not even the price of a top employee unit in today’s market. This is no longer the case. Our insatiable appetite for the “good life” has compounded our demand for electric energy. The city of Aspen, with its Canary Initiative, is now attempting to wean us off of coal. We, as Aspen residents, need to become aware of our responsibility to the environment by supporting the city’s efforts, or by cooperating in our own efforts to seek a resolution of our differences.
Sometimes we make the wrong choices and decisions. Some 50 years ago, the city of Aspen made a terrible mistake by removing the very slow speed and very durable pelton wheels with AC generators that once furnished electricity to the town of Aspen and the ski lifts on Aspen Mountain. At the time, that decision seemed a pragmatic one, since the wood flumes supplying water for the Castle Creek Power House were in need of replacement. At the same time, the city of Aspen was very poor and struggling to provide other necessary community services.
During the late ’50s and early ’60s, both the water and sewer systems had to be entirely replaced. The electric utilities also were in poor condition and the streets were a mess, unpaved and full of potholes. To sum it all up: The town’s infrastructure from the mining era was worn out. Unless you lived in town and worked all night keeping those lights on or the water flowing or the streets plowed, you have no idea what it was like or how hard many of us worked to keep this town going. So to all of us in our cozy houses, please keep in mind that dependable water, sewer and electric services with good community safety are a blessing and not to be taken for granted.
The convenience of electric energy is at our fingertips. You flip a switch or touch your finger on a keyboard — that is all it takes today. But let us not take this blessing for granted. On Labor Day, 1961, an unusual snowstorm wreaked havoc on trees and power lines, and Aspen was freezing in the dark. On the banks of Castle Creek stood the Castle Creek Power House, built in 1892, which still had the water turbines in place, ready to come to life with some ingenuity and forbearance on my part. I am truly proud to have come to the rescue of Aspen on that fateful weekend when Aspen was in need of an emergency source of power. Let us not take for granted the infrastructure that provides us with our necessary needs. Keep in mind the emergency facilities that are provided for your health and safety. Is it not a comfort to know that there is an emergency generator at the hospital should you be in need of one?
Shouldn’t the city of Aspen also have an emergency source of power in the event of a loss of the grid? Whether it be an act of God, by unusual and extreme weather conditions or an act of man, such as arson or terrorism or a car wreck, many factors can cause a loss of power. Is it not prudent to take precautions to ensure our safety and welfare? I urge you to think about your community and consider all of the great benefits of clean and renewable “backyard energy.”
We, as a community, must work together to achieve a common goal of clean, renewable energy for the common good. I believe we can work together for that common good by endorsing our city of Aspen’s plan to restore the clean and renewable generation of energy at the Castle Creek Energy Center with a resounding “yes” vote on 2C. We believe in “clean generation for the next generation.”
Jim Markalunas is an Aspen resident.