We need better reasons for ‘yes’ vote on hydro | AspenTimes.com

We need better reasons for ‘yes’ vote on hydro

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The question buried within ballot measure 2C asking voters to give the city permission to finish a hydroelectric plant really is, is it worth the millions of dollars the taxpayers of Aspen will spend?

We believe the answer is no. The amount of waste – both in taxpayer money and natural resources – needed to build a local hydroelectric plant on our small mountain creeks is an obvious sign that there are better ways going forward to offset our dependence on coal and other dirty fuels.

We believe that climate change is real, but we also have a responsibility as the managers of the headwaters of the Colorado River system to manage our water carefully. With a long-term drought keeping average streamflows below our historic average, we join the chorus who are asking why we would use our most precious resource for our energy. We understand that very little water is lost in the process, but the fact is, some water gets lost, and last time we checked, we didn’t have any to spare.

The amount of energy it will provide – covering 8 percent of the city electricity utility’s annual demand, based on 2011 usage – is not worth the risks.

Yet we are not against hydro. If the city could bring us a plan that allows us to buy into larger hydro and other renewable projects that could serve us as a region, then we would be more likely to open our eyes. The point is not location – those could be based here in our backyard, or those could be in Grand Junction. The point is scale. The main difference we have between our ancestors who used hydro in the 19th century is that today we have access to much greater technology and electrical grids, which allow us to disrupt rivers and other natural resources only when we can supply power on a massive scale.

Even though city officials say this could help us avoid the risks of being on a grid – mainly, blackouts – we reject the idea of “what ifs” and threats as a reason to spend millions more. Plus, we refuse to believe the cleaner, more environmentally friendly way to manage energy is to have local towns each building their own power plants using meager natural resources.

That said, we are not accusing the city of being anti-environment. Frankly, we think the arguments saying this plant will destroy our local rivers are bunk. We believe the outside money pouring into oppose this plant has just cluttered the question and distracted us from the real debate, and we are confident that the city would shut down the plant in drought years as promised.

Yet, will they keep a lid on spending? That, we’re not so sure about. Asking for permission to spend $4 million more than budgeted on a project that might work is not only uncomfortable – we wonder if this could become the most expensive “bridge to nowhere” this city has ever invested in. With a 22-year promise to get our money back in energy savings from the city, we wonder if that is aggressive enough. We wonder if all this will provide us enough time and energy to make up for the huge taxpayer investment. As we debated heavily whether to support this measure, we found ourselves wondering too much.

We support renewable energy and push our town leaders to invest our taxes in smart, effective ways that guarantee return. Local education, open space and environmental protections are all items we can stand behind together. But a divisive energy plant based on promises we don’t know the city can keep?

Let’s spend our money elsewhere or, at the very least, wait for the city to ask us a better hydro question with a few more guarantees.