State program would streamline hydropower applications
August 30, 2010
ASPEN – A potential new avenue for applying for permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, for hydropower projects has been formed at the state level.
It’s too early to tell, however, if that would be a good route for Aspen and its proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, for which the city utilities department plans to seek an exemption from the agency.
City spokeswoman Sally Spaulding said the pilot program announced by Gov. Bill Ritter, which would establish a partnership with the federal government, would probably not accommodate the timeline the city is pursuing with the project.
Ritter’s office and FERC signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, last week that would allow the state of Colorado to essentially process small hydropower applications and send them to the federal government for a rubber stamp. That process would circumvent a huge amount of red tape for the growing industry.
It can take three to five years for the current licensing process to unfold.
Spaulding said the exemption application from FERC achieves the same goal.
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“Essentially that’s what we’re doing by applying for the exemption,” she said.
Exemptions are available for projects that would generate five or more megawatts of power or projects that utilize existing pipelines that feed other water usage, such as Aspen’s Thomas Reservoir, which provides residents with drinking water.
Twenty-four hydropower projects have obtained exemption from FERC over the past 30 years, according to a press release from the governor’s office. But Spaulding said the law firm the city is working with to apply for the exemption has said Aspen has a good chance of getting it.
Any projects in Ritter’s new program will have to be implemented via existing infrastructure, according to the MOU.
A drainline currently being constructed from Thomas Reservoir above the Twin Ridge development near Aspen Valley Hospital would feed the power plant. It is being built regardless of whether the City Council approves the hydropower project because the reservoir poses a threat to the development should it overflow and collapse, city officials say.
But Phil Overeynder, the city’s public works director, recently said the drainline is technically being considered a part of the Castle Creek hydropower project.
Its $2.2 million price tag is being funded by the project’s nearly $6.2 million budget in bonds, which could go away if the City Council doesn’t approve the plant.
Homeowners along Castle Creek and in the West End have criticized the city for building the drainline as part of the project before obtaining FERC licensure or an exemption.
City Council indicated earlier this month that it would support the exemption, but asked for more information on how the health of the stream would be maintained after the project is built.
David Hornbacher, project director, said the city would conduct yearly studies modeled from a baseline Colorado Division of Wildlife review of the stream after the plant starts operating. The investigation would determine whether the project will damage the stream.
The hydropower project would divert 25 cubic feet per second through an existing pipeline from water-intake facilities on Castle and Maroon creeks to Thomas Reservoir. The water would all return to Castle Creek about 300 feet above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River.
To qualify for FERC exemption, a hydropower project must allow the water to return to the body it came from or be used again for non-hydropower purposes. Spaulding said that, either way, the water all eventually runs into the Roaring Fork River.