Location of power lines near Snowmass remains up in air

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The decision of whether to install power lines above ground in the Brush Creek Valley remained unresolved Monday as the Snowmass Village Town Council and Holy Cross Energy officials reviewed what could be an unsightly project.

Richard Brinkley, a Holy Cross engineer, said he feels cost issues must be resolved before progress can be made.

“The county and the town need to decide if they want the lines underground,” he said.

Snowmass Village Town Manager Mike Segrest, however, reminded the council that “Holy Cross is the ultimate one who has to make the decision.”

Holy Cross Energy has the final say on whether the lines will be installed above or below ground, and has the power to turn the issue over to the State Utilities Commission if a resolution is not reached.

Holy Cross initially set an end-of-June deadline for a resolution between the town and county. If a decision has not been made by that point, the fate of Brush Creek would be passed into the hands of the utilities commission, a possibility that strikes fear in those who favor underground lines. Erecting power lines above ground would be far cheaper than burying them below the surface, and the utilities commission would have to make the most cost-effective decision.

The underground lines are expected to cost $7.8 million. Holy Cross officials hope to have an estimate of above-ground costs by Thursday, when they meet with the Pitkin County commissioners.

On Monday, Brinkley backed away from the resolution deadline slightly, referring to the end of June mark as more of a “timeframe for the county and town to hammer out their positions.”

Brinkley said as long as there’s progress, the deadline’s not set in stone. “We’re all learning how to make this thing work,” he said.

A special public meeting will be held Monday, June 16, in the Snowmass Village Town Council chambers to address the issue.

The power lines – seven major transmission lines – are considered necessary by both Pitkin County and Holy Cross officials to meet expected increases in demand in Snowmass, especially with the projected Base Village and Town Center developments.

Snowmass currently receives its power via underground lines from a substation in the Airport Business Center. According to Holy Cross, a new substation has to be built in Snowmass because there is no room left in Aspen.

“Aspen is out of room for another circuit,” Brinkley said. “It’s going to have to come from another substation, like Snowmass, which represents a third of the load in the Roaring Fork Valley.”

The demand for power is growing in the Brush Creek Valley, even in these pre-Base Village days, as the average home requires more energy internally due to increased use of computers and televisions.

“There already is a scenario where we could have a problem,” Brinkley said.

If the substation is built, Holy Cross has offered three possibilities for the construction of underground power lines.

The first is to add a surcharge of approximately 20 percent to residents within Snowmass Village town limits.

The second is to bill the people living in Brush Creek Village, Snowmass Village and Owl Creek – the only areas served by the new lines.

The third is to bill all Holy Cross customers living between Basalt and Aspen, with those in the service area paying about 80 percent, and businesses and residences in the Roaring Fork Valley picking up the last 20 percent.