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In the heated debate surrounding the proposed Castle Creek Energy Center, there is but one fundamental truth: Science and economics are on the side of the proponents. Stream health and utility-rate reduction are not project hypotheticals – they’re guarantees. If you want the facts on the energy center, and you want them from a reliable source, then here they are:
Stream habitat: The project’s stream ecologist and hydrologists – arguably the most respected in Colorado – have concluded that the energy center as proposed will not damage the streams. The plant will only operate when diversions result in a 15 percent drop in “wetted perimeter” – the key metric of stream function. According to ecological monitoring and hydrological modeling, energy-center operation will not violate the this threshold, even at full production. If it does, then the city will shut down the plant until flows increase. This is on top of the minimum instream flows voluntarily donated by the city!
The bottom line is this: The city will only operate the plant when there are sufficient flows to fully support the streams’ fisheries and stream habitat.
Working with Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, the city developed an adaptive management protocol which, among other things, mandates that the plant starts at 67 percent production, incrementally approaching 100 percent only if all required fisheries and stream habitat indicators are satisfied, via regular data collection and monitoring over several years.
The adjacent riparian habitat will also be protected. Some opponents co-opt scientists’ work on subsurface hydrology of distant river systems (eg., the Flathead River) to speciously invoke the “sponge effect.” There are many stream systems to which this hydrological model applies, but Castle and Maroon creeks are not among them. The hyporheic zones and riparian habitats of Castle and Maroon creeks are fed primarily by steep hill-slope runoff and through-flow – both surface and subsurface – as well as groundwater baseflows.
Project economics: Opponents of the project continuously cite its high “installed $/kWh” even though they know this metric is entirely irrelevant. Even based on the most conservative scenarios, the energy center will have a lower average $/kWh than alternatives, saving Aspen and its ratepayers millions over the course of its 75-year life.
Need proof? Just look at Ruedi -currently our cheapest source of electricity by a factor of three ($0.020/kWh vs. $0.062/kWh for Schedule M). That means Ruedi saved us $790,410 in 2011 alone (vs. Schedule M); by 2023, it will save us more than $1 million a year; and, by 2040, it will save us over $2 million a year. No economist in their right mind would challenge the fiscal soundness of that project.
Why listen to me? Because I’m an environmentalist and mountain-sports enthusiast who cares deeply about the health of Aspen’s streams? Because I have a master’s in water science, policy and management? Because I’m one of several city employees – all persons of great integrity and professionalism – who planned and developed this project for the benefit of their community? I’m not sure.
But I am sure about this: The energy center is a good project, worthy of your support.
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