August 1, 2012
Recent letters to the papers from environmental opponents of Castle Creek Energy Center must have struck a nerve at City Hall. First the city’s utilities director, and now its taxpayer-funded director of propaganda dissemination has published Pravda (the truth) according to City Hall.
My objections to the energy center always have been primarily financial. Conspicuously absent from the most recent city attempts to defend the energy center was any attempt to defend its finances. The reason is simple: They are indefensible.
It seems that every few months someone (usually the undersigned) has to remind the people why the energy center is fiscally irresponsible. So here is another summary of the main points.
1. Even under the city’s rosy assumptions, it will cost three or four times as much to produce electricity at the energy center as it would cost to access alternative sources of renewable energy.
2. The city has left out of its rosy assumptions at least two categories of costs. First, starting up the energy center will involve diverting electrical production from the existing Maroon Creek hydro plant to the newer energy center. One would think that newer is better, but not this time. It will cost at least three times as much to produce the same electricity at the energy center as it would to produce it at Maroon Creek. Incremental cost to the city: at least $3 million present value, not included in the $10.5 million claimed by the city. Second, the city does not appear to have included in its $10.5 million any allocation of overhead from city departments that have worked and will work on the project.
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3. Completion and operation of the energy center require approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is uncertain how long that will take, how much it will cost, what modifications the commission might require and what limitations it might place on the energy center’s operations. All these uncertainties translate into possible cost increases or possible limitations on electrical output.
4. Unlike hydropower from Ruedi Reservoir, hydro from streams depends on adequate streamflow. If future streamflow is not as great as the city assumes, electrical output will be less, and the cost per kilowatt-hour will be higher than the city projects.
5. The city claims a payoff of our investment in a certain number of years. Even if the projections are true, there are other renewable-energy sources that would pay off sooner.
It might be more environmentally responsible to require visitors to park their planes and cars in Glenwood and take rickshaws up the valley to Aspen. But that wouldn’t make it financially viable. Every good environmental idea (not that the energy center is one) is not per se financially viable. The energy center is justified financially in Aspen only because so far the public hasn’t seemed to care how City Hall spends our money.
Alert: Check future City
Council agendas for subject “rickshaws.”