Back and forth on the hydro project
In a recent letter to the editor (“Just the facts, please,” Jan. 4, The Aspen Times), I called on Aspen city officials to discuss the Castle/Maroon creeks hydro project with objective facts.
The city’s Mitzi Rapkin responded with a slash at me that, sadly, failed to address the key questions (“Here are the facts,” Jan. 6, The Aspen Times). So, let me correct the record, using the city’s own figures. All my numbers are from the city’s spreadsheet (“CCHEP Payback analysis final”), given to me by David Hornbacher.
On the first point, about unrealistic electricity price inflation: The city numbers still do not comport with those of more distinguished authorities (the Energy Information Administration). Hornbacher’s spreadsheet uses 3 percent electricity inflation. (I had said 5, and I confess I got that wrong.) The EIA says 0 percent electricity inflation to 2035. My overall point was: If the city wants to use price projections that vary from the EIA, then it needs to justify those numbers.
Rapkin claims I was wrong when I said the city filed for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit under a flood exemption. But this is sleight of hand. The FERC allows for a “conduit exemption” permit for hydropower only for a pipe not built for hydropower purposes. The city did not have such a pipe – so they proceeded to build one, citing flooding dangers, and then used that new “non-hydropower” conduit in their application to FERC.
That was clever. But Aspenites are smart enough to recognize a two-step. (I am happy that Aspen ultimately withdrew this conduit exemption application and offered one that is more honest. But I am not the least pleased that the low road was taken in the first place.)
Rapkin also disputes my claim that the city is using outdated and insufficient hydrology data. Bill Miller’s study for the city makes only one assessment of stream flow on one day (on Castle Creek, none on Maroon Creek), and then extrapolates to conclude that ecological impacts will be minimal. As aquatic specialist Greg Espegren notes, “The report does not address the potential impacts associated with hydropower diversions that will draw these creeks down to minimum flow amounts for extended periods of time during the fall and winter months.”
I stand by my critique of the costs of the plant, too. Again, from Hornbacher’s spreadsheet: costs were taken from “Average Power Plant Operating Expenses from Major U.S. Investor Owned Utilities” – and then downscaled to the size of this hydro plant. Can the city seriously claim that we will operate this hydro plant at $42,000 per year? That is what the city’s spreadsheet claims.
The final substantive issue: I argued that the city did not compare the hydro plant with other zero-carbon alternatives. Rapkin conflates that to other hydro projects, and says there are no viable options. She ignores efficiency, and then claims that “wind and solar … have limited history.” Jeez, we used to have to read ExxonMobil ads to get that kind of tripe.
Let me go back to my original request. Give us facts. Aspen’s citizens deserve don’t need, and don’t want, hyperbole from our officials.
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