Letter: Stop hydro in Aspen before it’s too late

American Rivers opposed the Castle Creek Energy Center in November 2012, and we oppose it now. This is why American Rivers, along with several concerned members of the community, paid for a recent mailer that many residents in Aspen received last week. Despite a voter referendum directing the city to abandon this misguided project, city staff appear to be moving forward with it anyway. We believe that Aspen’s residents have the right to know about the city’s activities.

When Aspen residents voted against the Castle Creek Energy Center in 2012, they did so because it represents a terrible deal for Aspen’s rivers and ratepayers alike. Rivers need water to function, yet the Castle Creek Energy Center would deplete upward of 60 percent of Castle and Maroon creeks’ natural flow for several months each year. Aspen’s ratepayers deserve energy projects that represent a reasonable return on investment, yet the Castle Creek Energy Center will generate only a marginal amount of electricity at a comically high cost per installed kilowatt. Aspen’s renewable-energy goals are commendable. An ill-advised, marginally economic hydropower project that will damage Aspen’s rivers with a 19th-century design is the wrong way to meet these goals.

American Rivers has invested considerable resources opposing the Castle Creek project because it will damage Aspen’s rivers. But we also have opposed the Castle Creek Energy Center for the implications that it would have on hydropower development far beyond Aspen. The state of Colorado is quickly emerging as a national leader in responsible hydropower development. In the last couple of years, hydropower development in Colorado has been focused on a new class of right-sized, responsible, 21st century projects that are designed from the ground up with environmental sustainability in mind. Developers have been installing turbines in irrigation ditches and pressurized pipes, providing ranchers and communities with real benefits without harming rivers. American Rivers has championed this development: Last year, we worked closely with the National Hydropower Association to pass a bipartisan federal law that encourages more of these types of projects to be built faster, with less red tape.

Aspen’s approach to developing the Castle Creek Energy Center would be an enormous step back for Colorado. Aspen began this process with minimal stakeholder outreach. It purchased an expensive turbine in advance of receiving regulatory approval even though this turbine limited the city’s ability to right-size project operations to Castle and Maroon creeks. Aspen even tried to use a federal regulatory loophole at one point that would allow the project to move forward without an Environmental Assessment. Aspen enjoys a deserved reputation as a progressive community. This project is inconsistent with that progressive reputation and with all of the incredible work that has been done to modernize hydropower development in Colorado over the past couple of years. Aspen can and must do better.

Matt Rice

American Rivers

Director, Colorado River Basin Program