The truth about hydro
July 30, 2012
The people of Aspen deserve the truth. They aren’t getting it in recent letters to the editor by Castle Creek Energy Center opponents.
It’s clear these writers are against the project, but it might not be clear they mislead readers to bolster their cause. Why are they so inexorably opposed to the energy center? The energy center will offset approximately 6 million pounds of coal Aspen would have burned annually for energy. It adds 8 percent clean energy to Aspen’s utility, bringing the utility’s total renewable energy to 83 percent, and moves the community closer to its goal of reaching 100 percent renewable by 2015. And it has unprecedented river protections in place.
The energy center will start production slowly under the oversight of a multi-agency board of experts that will review regular river-monitoring reports. Energy-center operation occurs and ramps up only if the board deems it appropriate for the rivers’ health.
It is true the hydro plant will use water from Castle and Maroon creeks. It is also true it returns the water back to Castle Creek after it runs through a turbine. It’s a nonconsumptive project. The stretches of streams between the river intakes and hydroelectric returns will be protected. Power production will vary based on streamflow, the instream flow will be maintained, and the board of experts will ensure that river habitat is not adversely affected by energy-center operation.
A recent letter to the editor claims that “hydropower and other needs” will take more than 40 to 60 percent of the stream’s water much of the year. This statement is misleading at best. While it is unclear what “other needs” refers to, the public should know that existing municipal and hydro diversions will take between 51 and 57 percent of Castle Creek’s water four months of the year, not much of the year. Readers should beware that rhetoric used in opposition letters of “all water uses dewatering the streams” includes things such as potable uses, ones we believe our residents intend to continue lest they be unwashed and thirsty all the time.
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Aspen has reams of studies on the rivers and will continue to study their functionality and habitat into the future. It also has an agreement with Colorado Parks and Wildlife for stream-health monitoring. Why? To ensure that river health is not compromised by the energy center and to bring in other organizations to help monitor the environment.
Lastly, the city’s maintenance of its water-storage rights for reservoirs that might be built far into the future have nothing to do with a hydro plant that could be operating in a few years. The attempt to connect the two is misleading.
All the decisions regarding stream function, protection of instream flows and power production are based on science. Biologists and hydrologists have said in study after study that stream habitat and fisheries will not be adversely affected by the energy center. Opponents continue to make generalizations about stream ecology and the energy center without presenting researched facts about this project.
The energy center is one of many studied solutions Aspen is pursuing to lessen its impact on climate change and create a cleaner energy future. That’s the truth.
Community relations director, city of Aspen