Paul Andersen: Fair Game
October 29, 2012
The hydroelectric history of Aspen is an amazing story of innovation and vision. Hydro provided all of Aspen’s clean, renewable energy from 1885 until 1958, when a lack of foresight scrapped the system and Aspen went on the grid.
Some condemn today’s Castle Creek hydro project, saying it’s a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. That view reveals a lack of both foresight and hindsight. As long as streams flow downhill into Aspen, hydro power is as viable today as it was in the 1880s and just as much needed.
Striking a balance between stream health and climate expediency has made this a tough call, in part because the city’s projections for cost and output are in constant flux, potentially driving the price per kilowatt hour off the charts. That, coupled with alienating stream ecologists, has been a PR debacle. Still, the project is viable because a bigger issue – climate – contravenes far more stakeholders.
This issue has been tough, but it hasn’t been tough for everyone. I’m referring to the small but moneyed opposition to the project, the owners of lavish mansions along Castle and Maroon creeks. How much concern could these born-again “environmentalists” have for climate issues when their carbon footprints are Sasquatch-sized?
There’s no moral contest for them, only the notion of stopping a project they fear will impact their private stream sections. The hydro project is designed to address what they deny – that climate change is among the most critical issues of our day and that their excessive contributions are part of the problem.
While concerns over riparian health are legitimate, this cadre of conspicuous-consumers is acting with self-serving myopia. If they really care about the environment, they’re not showing it by pumping their excessive carbon into a warming atmosphere.
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The streams for which they claim stewardship could become severely dewatered by drought and compromised by rising temperature, due in part to carbon emissions to which they contribute a grossly disproportionate share. This is a moral issue because carbon directly imperils future stakeholders – our children – with unintentional but long-lasting consequences.
In a city that relies on skiing for its economy, climate is both a local and global factor that should be acted upon with every available technology. The hydro project should be part of that mix by reducing Aspen’s carbon footprint appreciably over the next quarter century.
In concert, the city should revitalize a second front on energy efficiency through retrofits and carbon-reducing strategies – based on its Canary Initiative. Developing clean renewables on the supply side is fine, but the city also must energize the consumer side with effective, long-term energy savings. New carbon taxes should be implemented to help pay the costs.
A further step is community education. Consumers and residents must recognize that the choices they make to satisfy material appetites aggregate into a public carbon policy that is failing. Living frugally and consciously is not a trial or punishment. It is the responsibility each of us has to heed our carbon contributions and limit them.
My home electric needs are met almost 100 percent from solar because I subscribed a year ago to a solar-energy collective at the Garfield County Airport in Rifle. I don’t have access to hydro, so this was the best option for me. The solar array that powers my home is guaranteed for 50 years and provides a sense of energy independence for my family.
Solar electric is well suited to Rifle, as hydro is geographically advantageous to Castle and Maroon creeks. Just because Castle and Maroon happen to flow through backyards where streams are backdrops for garden parties or channel water for private fish ponds doesn’t negate the clean-energy potential of these streams.
Many opponents of this project are sincere stewards of river ecology. Their awareness, concern and activism are laudable and should drive the city to ensure impeccable scrutiny of streamflows and riparian health. But that should not stop the project.
Aspen is a city of dichotomies where green sensibilities are overshadowed by conspicuous consumption. Hydro is an appropriate backyard approach to this glaring contradiction in community values.
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