No sale with Provo group for Aspen hydro equipment
The Aspen Times
A hydropower group in Provo, Utah, has walked away from a potential purchase of the city of Aspen’s $1.8 million turbine, generator and controls linked to the Castle Creek Energy Center, but an official said Thursday that the city will continue to gauge demand for the equipment around the country.
On Tuesday, the Aspen City Council opted to let the city’s federal permit for the controversial project expire after six years, a decision seen as a major victory for hydro opponents. The city is currently in the process of launching an ad campaign for the equipment through trade journals, industry conferences and word-of-mouth. Though two hydro developers have or are scheduled to examine the turbine, Aspen’s Renewable Energy Manager Will Dolan said the city is not aggressively seeking a sale.
“What we’re doing here is an information-gathering exercise,” Dolan said. “It’s just to get the information to council of what the stuff is worth and what the demand is and where it might be suitable.”
The city has invested about $7 million in the estimated $10.5 million project, which was halted in 2012 when 51 percent of Aspen voters shot it down during an advisory election. Along with the turbine equipment, Aspen incurred costs on the penstock, drainline, water improvements, electrical distribution, permits, legal fees and studies.
With a loss almost guaranteed on a potential sale, officials have been looking to somehow recoup what’s already been spent. The potential deal with Olmsted Hydropower in Provo was attractive because it offered Aspen the chance to receive discounted energy in return. However, engineers in Utah found installation of the Aspen-specific turbine too costly.
“I don’t think our council would have wanted to sell our equipment to them for how much of a discount they were going to need to make that work,” Dolan said.
Engineers found that reconfiguring the Olmsted project would have added about $1 million in design costs, as conceptual plans were already in place. Had engineers in Provo considered Aspen’s equipment earlier on, it may have been a more competitive situation, Dolan said.
“They wouldn’t have necessarily been starting from square one, but they would have needed to back way up and do more engineering work,” Dolan said. “It was a mutual understanding.”
Dolan said the two developers currently showing interest in the turbine are from Colorado and New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, the Aspen International Mountain Foundation, a nonprofit focused on sustainable mountain development, is independently shopping the turbine to foreign countries. President Karinjo Devore said the effort does not reflect a group stance on the Castle Creek Energy Center, though she personally supported the project.
The nonprofit first explored the possibility of a foreign sale to Bhutan, an Asian country that receives the majority of its income from hydropower. The foundation, a governing member of the United Nations Global Mountain Partnership, visited the country in October to work with Bhutan’s environmental trust, and the equipment was found incompatible.
The foundation is now in casual discussions with Bhutan’s neighbor, Nepal, and Peru. Devore said moving the equipment to a foreign country would include a number of hurdles, most notably funding. The foundation has explored a U.S. Agency for International Development program that assists in the transport of equipment to Asia, but the project would need additional funding.
“The city isn’t giving this equipment away,” Devore said. “If we are able to find a compatible home from our side, then we are going to have to find some donor support.”
Dolan said it cost about $50,000 to transport the equipment from Washington state to Colorado, and like Devore, he listed a number of hurdles in finding a new home. Any deviations in hydraulic head or flows would lessen the efficiency of the turbine, and a rural, developing country may not have the same capabilities, so it’s unlikely the equipment could operate at full potential.
“There aren’t a whole lot of sites out there that this would fit perfectly,” Dolan said. “In order to maximize the value, you would have to find a near-perfect fit.”
In other business, the city’s negotiations with its Midwestern energy provider, Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, have resumed. The talks will determine which sources Aspen uses in pursuit of its 100 percent renewable-energy goal for municipal operations.
Dolan and city officials had initially sought to forgo all nonrenewable energy sources — coal, gas and nuclear — in favor of hydro and wind. This would have meant the absence of landfill gas, a renewable-energy source with questionable legitimacy. With that product, Aspen would be consuming coal-based energy while enabling customers in the Midwest to purchase cleaner landfill gas. Dolan said the city may need to consider purchasing 10 percent landfill gas or less for balancing purposes.
“We still included that provision where we would allow ourselves 10 percent wiggle room in order to more effectively balance our portfolio at 100 percent,” Dolan said. “Balancing at 100 percent at all times of the year is not feasible, so what you need to do is have some buffer in there.”
Dolan expects to reach an agreement with the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska in May.
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