Direct beneficiaries should pay for underground power
The beautiful Brush Creek Valley will be a lot less beautiful if Pitkin County and Snowmass Village can’t quickly come to an agreement regarding the upper valley’s power system.Steady growth in Snowmass Village, Brush Creek and Owl Creek has created the need for Holy Cross Energy to upgrade the lines that keep the lifts running and the hot tubs warm in those areas.Studies by both the utility and the Pitkin County Open Space & Trails department confirm that new high-voltage transmission lines will be needed in the near future. And two mammoth developments working their way through the approval process – Base Village and the Snowmass Center – have shortened the time line.Holy Cross has applied to install the new lines on dozens of 60- to 90-foot metal power poles lined along the side of the Brush Creek Valley. But utility officials say they are willing to bury the lines if a satisfactory way can be found to pay the estimated additional $7.85 million cost of doing so.Few can deny the Brush Creek Valley is one of the most beautiful in the area. Local taxpayers have already spent close to $9 million to protect it from development. Everyone from homeowners to local government officials to utility representatives seem to agree that a column of steel power poles running the length of the valley is unacceptable. So the lines must be buried.We urge the county commissioners to vote on the application as soon as possible and deny the Holy Cross request for an overhead system. Once a negative vote is taken, it opens the door for the company to bury the lines.Failure to rule on the application will force Holy Cross to go to the state Public Utilities Commission at the end of June. And that agency, which has authority to overrule local governments, will likely mandate the cheaper, above-ground option.The real dilemma is deciding who should cough up all those millions to bury the lines. Holy Cross has presented three options: Increase power bills in Snowmass Village by 20 percent; bill everyone in the area served by the power extension, including Brush and Owl creeks; or force people in those areas to pay 80 percent of the cost and people in outlying areas like Basalt, Woody Creek and Aspen to cover 20 percent.We agree with the county commissioners, who feel the entire cost of burying the lines should be shouldered by those who stand to gain the most.People outside “the neighborhood” – 48,000 Holy Cross customers in all – shouldn’t have to pay more to protect property values in Snowmass Village and Brush Creek. Perhaps Holy Cross could devise a way for outsiders to contribute voluntarily each month, but they shouldn’t be forced to do so.After all, if Aspenites decide to bury the transmission lines along the Rio Grande Trail, would it really be the responsibility of ratepayers in Snowmass Village, Basalt or Thomasville to help defray that cost? We think not.Intrawest, the corporation building Base Village, has already taken the first step in the right direction. It has offered to pay approximately 25 percent of the cost to put the lines underground. Obviously it sees the benefit to the town and its development and is willing to put its money on the line. Others in “the neighborhood,” including the Snowmass Village Town Council, should follow the county commissioners’ lead and support a system in which the direct beneficiaries pay the cost.
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