Aspen may water down plan for hydropower
September 14, 2010
ASPEN – City staff coordinating the effort to build an Aspen hydropower plant on Castle Creek that would divert 25 cubic feet per second from the stream said Monday night they would weigh compromises that would potentially divert less water.
The move is an effort to find middle ground with a group of residents who oppose the current proposal. The residents, many of whom live along the creek, say it could harm the ecosystems of Castle and Maroon creeks.
Talks started last week between the City Council and the group to postpone the council’s decision, originally scheduled for Monday, to Oct. 16.
The staff bases its opinion that the stream would remain healthy on a city-commissioned study of its complex ebb-and-flow cycle done by an environmental consultant.
Dee Malone, who ran for a Pitkin County commissioner seat in 2008 and was among the people who voiced opposition to the project at Monday night’s City Council meeting, said that study is “at best questionable” because it only lasted a few months.
“It’s like putting the stream on life support,” she said.
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Currently, Castle Creek runs at its minimal stream flow – about 14 cubic feet per second, or cfs – in February and March. The hydropower plant could extend that period to six months.
Malone asked the City Council to entertain commissioning a three-year study of the stream that she said would more accurately portray its diversity. She said parts of Castle Creek are flat and some are steep, while some are narrow and others are wide.
“Each type of stream is gong to respond differently to the dewatering,” she said.
The main incentive the city cites in building the hydropower plant is that it would save the city from paying energy fees to a Nebraska power authority. The project, they say, would localize Aspen’s energy economy and move it closer to its goal of becoming completely carbon-neutral.
But City Manager Steve Barwick said if the city were to divert less water from Castle Creek than originally planned – not letting it go below 19 cfs – the project would still have a huge economic benefit.
The city has already spent about $400,000 to build a drainline from Thomas Reservoir that would feed the power turbines, as well as purchasing the turbines for the power plant, which would be located under the Highway 82 bridge that spans Castle Creek on Power Plant Road.
The money is coming from bonds that are meant for the energy center, but if the City Council does not approve the proposal, those funds would have to be allocated to something else, or paid back.
Aspen has not received permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to start the project. Spokeswoman Sally Spaulding has said no permission is required from FERC to build the drainline.
The city plans to apply for a conduit exemption from the agency, which is basically permission to build a hydropower plant using existing infrastructure such as the intake valves on Castle and Maroon creeks and the pipelines that take water to Thomas Reservoir for Aspen’s drinking supply.
But Maureen Hirsch, who lives on Castle Creek just below where the water would be returned to the stream, said that only half of the infrastructure is existing. She said FERC might deny the exemption on those grounds.
The FERC license for a hydropower plant involves years of red tape and applications.