It is terrific that the city is running a work session on Jan. 22 to consider different strategies to finish moving the city to 100 percent renewables. It is likewise terrific that we are at 89 percent renewables already, and have a small gap to close.
But hold the cheering. The setup of the meeting, as described in the invitation, is deplorable. In a courtroom, attorneys are prohibited from asking leading questions. And witnesses are required to speak the truth as they know it. Shouldn’t our public officials be charged with the same standards?
Here are the problems:
1. Some of the “criteria” are silly. Actually it is a bit more insidious than that. They are clearly designed to fit only one possible energy source — diverting Maroon and Castle creeks to run a new hydropower plant. For example, the first criterion is to provide 8 million kilowatt hours of electricity, skipping entirely the possibility of energy efficiency, which is generally the cheapest, fastest way to provide energy services. A second criterion is finding power sources that fit Aspen’s power consumption curve. This unnecessary requirement overlooks about a century’s worth of utility operation knowledge: Utility operators balance demand and supply across a huge variety of electricity sources and draws. They don’t build plants for each load. Doing so would add enormous costs. Setting bid requirements that only fit one technology or one company is an old, bad habit of the military. Aspen should not follow suit. Together, these criteria are the equivalent of a leading question — and that’s not a fair way to proceed.
2. The data are wrong. Again. The letter says that the appropriate comparison is the Castle Creek hydro plant, with a “cost of completion” of $3.1 million. Friends, by the time this plant is completed, if it ever is, it will cost north of $10 million. The original analysis for the hydro plant, projecting costs at half this total, showed no break-even until 2046. Now the cost has doubled.
I have worked with public officials on clean energy projects from Beijing to Berlin, from Sacramento to Sao Paulo. The work is, on the whole, getting easier, as solar prices drop (down 75 percent in the last three years), wind prices do the same (50 percent reduction in 10 years), and most important, grid operators learn how to manage complex new power mixes. The whole job becomes far easier in jurisdictions where energy efficiency is taken seriously.
Isn’t it time for Aspen to rise to these standards? Let’s deal with real numbers. Let’s look at all alternatives. Let’s do this honestly, not with a thumb on the scales. I am certain we can find that last 11 percent of clean energy at a lower cost, and without dewatering two of the three rivers in our valley.