Aspen embarks on replacing entire electric system over 15 years

City project manager says Aspen's electrical system is edging towards the end of its life.

City of Aspen

Knowing city projects can sneak up on Aspen residents and businesses, even after they’ve been notified ahead of time, Mayor Torre double-checked to make sure he had correctly heard city project manager Andy Rossello.

“Say that again, please,” the mayor said.

“Over the next 15 years, we are replacing the entirety of the city electric system,” Rossello said. “It is approaching the end of its useful life.”

He went on to describe the city’s multi-phase project to modernize its electrical grid that started earlier this year in the area near the Red Brick Center for the Arts and Carl’s Pharmacy. That work comprises the project’s first phase and is the beginning of the city’s effort to replace its electric grid’s 30-year-old underground cable with a new cable and conduit system. The second half of that work will be finished next year, he said.

The city’s infrastructural concerns came up at a special council meeting on Monday concerning ballot language for a proposed tax on short-term rentals. While council members agreed to dedicate at least 70% of the STR tax revenue to worker-housing coffers, they also said a portion of the remaining funds could go toward infrastructure, provided voters pass the tax question in November.

As well, a memo from Rossello and utilities director Tyler Christoff to the City Council in advance of their Aug. 23 meeting noted the urgency to modernize the electrical grid.

“The city of Aspen electric distribution system consists of 30-year-old electric cable, directly buried in the ground,” the memo said. “This cable is approaching the end of its designed lifespan. Staff has worked to prioritize and schedule replacement of the aging infrastructure with new cable and conduit systems over the next 15 years.”

The next phase calls for the circuit replacement from Paepcke Park to City Market.

But, before any of the old wire can be unearthed and replaced in that area, a detailed survey of downtown Aspen will be needed, as well as a design of the circuit replacement. On Aug. 23, the council agreed to retain the services of EN Engineering, rewarding the Illinois-based firm a $149,918 contract, the lowest bid among the four requests for proposals the city received.

The city has a $225,000 budget for the project design and has already spent $30,025, according to city meeting records.

Installing the new cable for the Paepcke Park to City Market project would take place in 2024 and 2025, according to the memo. Related work will continue after those years.

“This is a multi-year project that is going to be for the benefit of our community often,” Torre said. “Several times a year, we have brownouts, as they’re called.”

Modernizing the electrical grid should mean fewer power outages, Rossello said.

“We are installing a cable and conduit system, which will serve well into the future as it facilitates easy construction and pulling of new wire when there is an outage, rather than digging and having larger community disturbance,” he said.

The community can expect some disruptions with the circuit-replacement work, much of which will take place in downtown’s alleyways.

“In the next couple of years, while the public is seeing this disturbance, know that it’s because we want to — and the utilities want to — deliver electricity when you turn on the switch,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein.


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