Guest commentary: New solar farm near Aspen should be seen as solution, not eyesore
Last fall, the United Nations released what is now being called its climate “Doomsday Report,” showing that without extremely aggressive measures, the globe will warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century, passing a key threshold between manageable temperature increases and catastrophe. In May, the UN also reported on the biodiversity crisis: a million species are on the brink of extinction, in large part due to warming. More recently, an Australian research group warned that by 2050, climate change threatens human civilization itself.
The science, combined with our human experience on the ground, makes it amply clear that what’s needed at the moment is aggressive action on climate unlike anything we’ve seen before. Governments, corporations and communities like ours will need to step outside our comfort zones and do and accept more than we might have in the past.
Right now, Pitkin County is reviewing a proposal to add 5 megawatts of solar energy to land owned by the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District south and east (slightly upvalley) of the Brush Creek and Highway 82 intersection — a public hearing will be July 16. The project will do two things for our community: It will help our utility, Holy Cross Energy, achieve its clean energy goals early, reducing the entire region’s carbon footprint and becoming a model for the nation. And it will become part of an upper-valley grid resilience project that will help Aspen ensure that key services remain intact in the event of a power disruption caused by fire, flood or other disasters. Remember: last summer’s Lake Christine Fire burned powerline poles in Basalt and very nearly took out the grid; it was a miracle that much of the upper valley avoided days of blackout.
There’s no doubt that this project will have a real visual impact, one that changes our sense of the place we live, and will be opposed by many in the community who see it as an eyesore. But we at Aspen Skiing Co. believe our community can no longer say: “We support clean energy, just not here.” Climate change is already creating impacts far beyond the visual and, if left unaddressed, will only grow worse. Especially here, we must use our profile and national exposure to model climate solutions. Given what we understand about the climate problem, to not take this action, and presume others will act instead, would be irresponsible.
Aspen Skiing Co. recognizes that this project is a sacrifice, but it is also a way for us to participate in a solution to the most threatening issue of our time, and an opportunity for us to show history that we understood the challenges we faced and acted at scale. For parents like me, it is a statement of love, not just for my children but for my neighbors. This array ought to be seen as a thing of beauty and of hope, a symbol that also protects the underlying health of our landscape, and the foundation of a noble future we created from a piece of ourselves.
Auden Schendler is the Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of sustainability.