As a W/J resident and Roaring Fork Valley native, I've been really surprised by the opposition to this project, though maybe I shouldn’t be. Aspen truly is a bubble unto itself.
One thing most opponents of the proposed Woody Creek solar farm have in common: They probably won’t live long enough to witness the worst consequences of climate change. They’re making a death bet, and they’ll probably win.
What’s a death bet, you ask? It’s a simple wager that when the bill comes due, you won’t be around to pay it.
But that doesn’t mean the bill goes unpaid.
We’re right to preserve this special place, but not to hide our selfish motives for doing so. Whether gained through inheritance or housing lottery, if you’re fortunate enough to own property in the upper valley you sit atop a vast pile of unearned wealth in the form of ever-appreciating land values. Pray that your pile is large enough to protect you while the waters of consequence rise ever closer to your shores, but don’t pretend you haven’t had a role in their rise. We’ve already seen, though not yet truly suffered from, the shorter winters and the hotter summers that climate change promises.
If scientists are correct, it just gets worse from here, but we’ve also gotten lucky so far. How quickly we forget just how close we came to losing power this summer during the recent Lake Christine Fire. Let’s take the lesson, and strive for resilience over fragility.
A lot’s been made of the visibility of the proposed solar farm. We’ll see it from the highway, opponents proclaim! We’ll see it from our houses, and from our airplane windows! To borrow a phrase from software engineering, that’s a feature, not a bug. Generating energy is costly, and perhaps we would behave with more wisdom and less profligacy if that cost were a bit more visible. I, for one, can’t wait to putter up and down the Rio Grande Trail on my electric bike, smug in the knowledge that my batteries are full of sustainable, local, clean electrons.
The fact is that most (53 percent, per Holy Cross Energy) of the electricity Aspenites use to heat our driveways or charge our Teslas comes from burning coal. That we don’t see (or smell) the results in our day-to-day lives makes it easy to ignore the huge amount of carbon being spewed on our behalf, and the damage those emissions do. But easy don’t make right, and ignorance isn’t a morally defensible argument.
The privately funded (again, a feature, not a bug) 5-megawatt installation proposed here represents roughly enough energy to power 900 homes. It’s not going to solve our energy issues here in Pitkin County, but its symbolic weight should not be ignored, sitting as it does “right at the entrance to Aspen.” It represents real skin in the energy transition game, and makes a profound statement about our willingness as a community to get real when it comes to our oft-proclaimed, but rarely embodied, environmentalist ethics.
It’s time to stop pretending, and it’s time to choose clean, local solar over distant, dirty coal. Yes in my back yard.
South of Woody Creek