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Castle Creek hydro plant will augment city’s electric supply

M. John Fayhee
Mark Fox/The Aspen Times Aspen public works director Phil Overeynder hopes to see a new hydroelectric plant making electricity from the water in Castle Creek.
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An attempt to re-establish Aspen’s original hydroelectric plant, past Castle Creek just under the Highway 82 bridge, is not just an attempt to reconstruct the past in this history-crazed city.If the federal permitting perches goes well, the new hydro station should help provide Aspen with even more electricity, which, because of the operational existence of two other hydro plants – one on Maroon Creek and the other near Ruedi Reservoir – makes this one of the least expensive cities for electricity in the state.According to public works director Phil Overeynder, Aspen currently gets about a third of its power via hydroelectric generation plants. Rebuilding the Castle Creek plant according to plan would provide the city with an additional 8 to 10 percent of its electric needs.

Aspen was actually the first city west of the Mississippi to provide for all its municipal electricity needs via hydro power.”The original plant served the city from the time it was constructed in 1887 until it was taken off line in the late-’50s,” Overeynder said. “Many mines were powered by hydro in that 1880s, but we were the first city in the West to be powered totally by one hydro plant.”According to Overeynder, Aspen’s self-sufficient hydro era ended when the federal government came in an offered power for a fraction of the cost of locally generated electricity.”When they offered the city all the power it could use for a few cents less per kilowatt-hour, the hydro plant was abandoned,” Overeynder said.

But, with electricity generation increasingly dependent upon gas- and coal-powered plants hundreds of miles way, Aspen has been rediscovering its historic power-generation roots.”There is definitely a higher upfront cost,” Overeynder says. “But, a hydro plant can be amortized over 20 years, and, with a life span of 50 years, we get 30 years of at-cost electricity.”Overeynder estimates it will cost $2 million to $2.5 million to resurrect the hydro plant on Castle Creek. That money would come from Aspen’s coffers, but the power it generates would then be sold back to the city’s electrical authority, which would then resell it to local consumers. That initial capital outlay would not only be recouped in 20 years, but, even before the plant is amortized, the power it generates would contribute to the fact that Aspen has the sixth-least-expensive electricity in the state, Overeynder said.At issue is not only the upfront capital outlay but the federal permitting process.

“We still own the necessary water rights,” Overeynder said. “But we still have to apply for a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Actually, our application is requesting that the feds OK an exemption to the permitting process, because out water rights and the existence of the original hydro plant predate the existence of FERC. If that exemption is granted, we could have a permit to begin construction within six months.”Even if the exemption is denied, Overeynder is confident that the facility would be permitted under existing FERC regulations.The Castle Creek plant would be near the headquarters of the city’s streets department (part of the original power plant facility that was refurbished with a $155,000 state historical grant in 2005). Water in Thomas Reservoir, a 15-acre-foot retention facility that serves most of Aspen’s water needs, would power the plant.”It would fall 330 feet from Thomas Reservoir, which is served by lines from both Castle and Maroon creeks, to the hydro site,” Overeynder said. “We feel it would be able to generate 22 million kilowatts of power.”Overeynder says he has received the blessing of the city government, and that he plans to go forward with the permitting process, in hopes that construction might begin next year.


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