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Writer: Stop digging

Scott Writer
Guest Opinion

Ken Neubecker, in a recent letter, took me to task over my generally pro-hydro stance, asking if I had read a letter by Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute (of whom I am huge fan).

My answer to Ken is no; in fact, no one in the public had access to the letter. It was sent only to the Aspen City Council, which only made it available to staff when it was forced to release it just recently.

I am not a fan of Elizabeth Milias’, and she won’t even shake my hand, but hats off to her for getting this letter made public. Here was a chance to do a better job and support a local company and industry, all while building competence and credibility for the project, and they didn’t think to ask the Rocky Mountain Institute until December.

My comments after reading Lovins’ letter:

Local economic benefit. If your monthly electrical bill is $100 and all of it goes to benefit an outside company, is that as good as if it is $100 and all that money goes to our city-owned utility? Some portion of that $100 can then be used to serve us locally, as opposed to zero dollars.

Which sounds economically better to you for Aspen? What if it was $120 that went in city coffers versus $100 that goes in outside corporate coffers? I don’t know, but if I were investigating the pros and cons, I would consider this issue. Lovins did not address this point, nor have the opponents in the financial analysis I have seen.

Costs. The opponents used 25-year studies (the length of the loan), during which the economics were difficult. But I understood the turbines would work for 75 to 100 years. I thought, “Pay off the debt in 25 years, and rake in the cash for the next 50 to 75.” Well, Lovins says that it will take more money just to operate the system, even after paying off the loan, than it would to buy power from another renewable source. I can’t get my head around the logic there, but I defer to Lovins’ expertise on that count.

Transparency. Lovins is diplomatic and supportive, but I read his comments to say the projected costs were either hidden, grossly underrepresented or both. That is sad, and I expect better. He calls for more transparency and expert third-party input. The Red Ant has been telling us for years that this kind of stuff goes on all the time, but I don’t like the messenger, so, as much I try not to, I tend to dismiss the message.

I am guilty in this case of letting my personal feelings about the messenger cloud my judgment, and for that, I apologize. This is one community with many opinions. I think we all need to open up a little and look at the issues, not the messengers — regardless of their “side.”

Environment. When I heard radio ads from the opponents saying “miles of Castle and Maroon creek will be destroyed” (“will”!), I shook my head. The Aspen City Council, the most environmentally oriented public body perhaps in the world, was going to destroy the creeks? Please. Lovins’ letter does not support this claim.

Water rights. For the record, Neubecker is incorrect to suggest that the ascribed beneficial use of water rights can never change. I believe public entities like Aspen shouldn’t think in terms of just 25 years. No one, proponents or opponents, can know what our world will look like in 100 years, but I am confident that Aspen will be here. Will Aspenites lament the loss of those rights then? I think so.

So, Lovins says Castle Creek hydro isn’t worth the money and points out the “first rule of holes,” which is to say, “When you are in one, stop digging.” So, unless there is info regarding the economics of paying yourself for power versus outside interests, I am hanging up my shovel on this one and wish to express my thanks to the opponents and Lovins for shining a light on the issues.

If nothing else, this reminds me that it is worthwhile to listen and believe in common interests before automatically dismissing them as impossible.

Man, we live in a great place!

Scott Writer lives in Aspen.


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