Letter: More on hydro

More on hydro

Dear Editor:

On April 30, Scott Writer wrote a letter titled “Hydropower still makes good cents.” Not really. I gather he hasn’t read Amory Lovins’ letter to the Aspen City Council, which goes into great detail about how the Castle Creek hydro plant does not make any “cents” one way or the other.

The city asked for letters and suggestions back in December. Amory, a world leader in energy economics, responded, confirming previous studies that show Castle Creek Energy Center would be the most expensive hydro plant in the world.

Scott ignores all this and says that the energy center, after 25 years “can get the power from hydro for virtually nothing, creating a profit center for the city and a means to reduce taxes.” How? There will still be substantial maintenance and personnel costs. And profit? All the electricity will go directly to the Aspen Recreation Center, wastewater and water treatment plants. It’s not for sale on the grid at all, so it can’t turn a profit. Nor is it likely to reduce taxes.

Scott points out that the energy center can run in a way that doesn’t harm the streams, and he could be right. Unfortunately that isn’t how the city is planning to operate. If they did, the energy center would produce even less energy and cost more. As it is, the energy center would have been shut down or running very little since last September because of low flows and ice.

That unreliability brings up the issue of water rights. Even if the city loses its right to use water for hydropower it will still have by far the largest and oldest water rights portfolio on Castle and Maroon creeks. More rights than water most of the year.

First, the city does not “own” any water; the people of Colorado own it. The city “owns” a right to beneficially use water. If the water isn’t used for that, the right can be taken away. The city hasn’t used water for hydropower in over 50 years and that right could be deemed abandoned. But that’s up to the water court, not the “court” of public opinion.

If the court decrees the hydro right abandoned, Aspen will lose very little, and certainly not any “real value” as Scott claims. The hydro right is non-consumptive, and right now can only be used for hydropower. Its long history of non-use pretty much guarantees no convertible value or volume, even for non-consumptive instream flow needs. This right can be abandoned, but it can’t be “stolen” as some claim.

The city also holds conditional rights for reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks. Reservoirs are the only way to ensure a truly reliable water supply for generating hydropower. The city could also lose these 1960s rights from lack of development.

These are the facts, not some charade trumped up to “win” anything. Unfortunately it was mainly City Hall that cherry-picked the facts, created diversions and steadfastly refused to answer the real concerns about cost or tell the whole story about water rights.

Ken Neubecker