County mulls making upper valley pay for Brush Creek power lines |

County mulls making upper valley pay for Brush Creek power lines

The Pitkin County commissioners made it clear Monday night that they don’t want to bill residents of Aspen Highlands or Holland Hills to cover the cost of burying power lines near Snowmass Village.

But the majority of people who spoke up at the first public hearing on the application to install new transmission lines to serve Snowmass, Brush Creek and Owl Creek thought their neighbors around the county should share the cost.

Steve Whipple, a Brush Creek resident and member of the county planning and zoning commission, said he thought the cost of burying the new lines should be spread among as many people as possible.

He pointed out that large developments in the Aspen area, such as Aspen Highlands Village and the North 40, have put pressure on the existing infrastructure and are responsible for at least part of the need for new transmission lines.

The commissioners did not take any formal action, but are expected to decide on the issue at a June 12 meeting with the Snowmass Village Town Council. If an agreement is not forthcoming between the governments, the above-ground plan will proceed.

Officials of Holy Cross Energy, the local utility that provides power to much of the region, say the upgrade is necessary within the next few years to keep up with expected surges in demand from the Base Village and Town Center developments. Both of those projects are in the town of Snowmass Village’s approval process.

Currently, Snowmass and surrounding areas receive electricity from distribution lines that run underground from a substation at the Aspen Business Center. The 12 transformers at the ABC site serve the entire upper valley.

And Holy Cross officials say that all 12 are needed during the height of tourist season, which means there is no backup for about a third of the year.

“There’s no way to avoid a blackout for some customers if something goes wrong during those times,” said Bob Schultz, a planning consultant who represents Holy Cross.

The utility has applied to erect towers and string transmission lines up the

Brush Creek Valley, through the heart of county- and town-owned open space, and the primary entrance to Snowmass Ski Area and Snowmass Village. Though open to burying the lines, Holy Cross executives say it will happen only if the two governments with jurisdiction over the service area, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village, can agree on a way to bill or tax residents to cover the additional cost, some $7.9 million.

“The entire upper end of the valley will be able to use the three transformers freed up by the new substation at Snowmass,” Whipple said.

Holy Cross sells power to the Aspen Electric Department, the city-owned utility that serves customers in Aspen. The extra transformers will be needed once the 330 affordable housing units at Burlingame near completion. And development planned along Maroon and Castle creeks will also add to demand in coming years, Whipple said.

“That gives some of the points that rationalize a broader payment area,” he said.

The broader area under consideration now would include residential and commercial customers in the Roaring Fork Valley between Basalt and Aspen. They would see a small surcharge to their monthly power bill that would cover 20 percent of the cost of burying the new lines. Customers served directly by the new lines and substation would cover 80 percent of the additional cost.

The plan that is less attractive to Whipple would only tax customers within the immediate service area, adding between 15 and 20 percent to monthly electric bills.

At a meeting earlier this month, a representative for the Brush Creek neighborhood expressed concern over the fact that he and his neighbors are being forced to pay for an upgrade that primarily benefits the Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest Development. The companies are developing Base Village.

Brush Creek, which sprawls up the hillside above the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road, is within the immediate service area.

At Monday’s hearing before the commissioners, one member of the public suggested the entire upper valley should pitch in because “everybody benefits” from not having to look at the poles and lines.

The commissioners resisted that argument, however, pointing out that the real beneficiaries are the landowners along Brush Creek and in Snowmass Village whose property will be worth more if the lines are buried. They also pointed out that a previous board of commissioners rejected the same argument from Woody Creek residents.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is]

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