"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." -- Edmund Burke
As the seemingly never-ending fight over the hydro plant heats up yet again, we all await the recommendations of the $90+K study commissioned by the city from National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), expected this coming week. As expected, the narrow scope of the study ("home-grown renewable energy" -- recall that a Carbondale-based solar energy source was deemed by the prior council as being "not local enough") all but ensures that the Castle Creek Energy Center (CCEC) a.k.a. the hydro plant will make the list as a viable source of renewable energy to help the city meet its "canary initiative" goal of a 100% renewable portfolio by 2015. It doesn't take a market research specialist to recognize that the city's commissioned studies are always spec'd so as to justify a predetermined position already held by the local government. It's free money (yours and mine) so what's another $90+K when it enables the bureaucrats to wave a foregone conclusion in front of the local papers, "justifying" their latest ill-conceived desire!?
The NREL, a Golden, Colorado, division of the Department of Energy that serves as the DOE's primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficient research and development, has a 35-year track record in the field, not to mention $352 million in annual federal funding (2012). And word has it that they were wise enough to have spoken to Old Snowmass resident and internationally esteemed energy expert Amory Lovins (who also founded the Rocky Mountain Institute) about his in-depth, 33-page unsolicited-yet-scathing April 15, 2013, report to council (read it HERE, it's truly fascinating) that excoriates the CCEC in no uncertain terms, ripping the project itself, its premise, the decision-making process, as well as the city's sketchy and ever-changing project financials. In short, Lovins admonishes the city:
"The city's economic analysis of CCEC is flawed and unreliable."
"The CCEC has higher costs and risks than available, ample and suitable alternatives, even neglecting its sunk costs and counting only its to-go costs."
And my personal favorite? CCEC got into trouble because of "inadequate consideration of available alternatives and strategic risk management-caused bad decisions; input from council's technical advisors was either ill-informed or misinterpreted; and input from the public, which in this region includes world-class independent experts, was improperly solicited and inadequately considered."
While not expecting a miracle (it's not like we have enough wind in the city limits for this to become a new energy source in lieu of the CCEC, for example), opponents of the CCEC will be watching closely to see exactly how the NREL study nets out. (The NREL report is scheduled to be presented to council on Monday, April 21, however, at press time, the city has neglected to put anything on its website to confirm this and/or notify the public. Please check www.AspenPitkin.com on Monday for details and the meeting agenda.)
In the meantime, the final decision to proceed (or not) with the construction of the CCEC rests with council. Yes, they were "advised" by local voters in 2012 (2044 against continuing the project vs 1934 for), but Mayor Steve Skadron, Ann Mullins and Art Daily all rebuffed that outcome prior to being elected to mayor/council in 2013. All 3 went on record with The Red Ant and said in no uncertain terms that the vote was too close, the voters got it wrong and/or there could be reasons to ignore the outcome of the vote.
In their own words, in support of the hydro plant despite the November 2012 vote:
Mullins: "The vote last November was won by a very narrow margin so we are far from consensus on this project. I would like to see this issue come up before City Council again and rethink the process and outcome with the following four goals in mind. Arrive at a result that: 1. Supports healthy rivers and streams; 2. Produces clean renewable energy; 3. Retains our water rights; and 4. Makes economic sense. With these goals in mind and the willingness of those on both sides of the argument to discuss and/or accept some compromise we should be able to gain consensus on the outcome of this project." Looks like someone would benefit from reading the Lovins report!!!
Daily: "I support the hydro project, assuming the associated water rights are confirmed through the pending court action or otherwise. I believe the related science (minimum stream flows, etc.) and the economics of the project have been substantially addressed. It's another step in the provision of clean renewable energy for the City (the Ruedi hydro project, for example), and I believe it will reap long term benefits for our community and the generations to come." Someone else might benefit from reading the Lovins report too!!
Skadron: "My goal is to see Aspen's electric utility portfolio consist of 100% renewable sources. Today, the city is considering options to get us there, exclusive of hydro, that didn't previously exist. It's not my
intention to disregard the outcome of the advisory vote, but should all other options fail to satisfy our 100% goal, hydro should, at the very least, be re-considered." Steve, too, should read the Lovins report, which contains many viable options aside from the disastrous CCEC!! Or maybe, in order to get Mick's endorsement for mayor last year, he made a promise to see the CCEC through??
This community, in its desire to elect people who are "good guys" or have "compelling stories," often elects people who could not care less about the political desires of those they represent. Sometimes, these folks simply do not do their homework or even a modicum of independent reading/thinking on critical issues! In this case, just one year ago, we clearly elected three! It seems that Adam Frisch and Dwayne Romero see the idiocy of proceeding with the CCEC, but a 2-3 vote for fiscal and environmental sanity gets us nowhere good. Short of a council vote against CCEC, and in the absence of telling city staff "no," work (and especially spending) on the CCEC continues.
If you care and are so inclined, please reach out to Art, Steve and Ann (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com) and IMPLORE them to read Amory Lovins' report. They need to know that if you ignore the voters, that's one thing. But to ignore the counsel and recommendations of one of the world's renowned experts on energy is another thing entirely.
EFFORTS TO STOP CCEC AGAIN
Reuniting after the successful 2012 vote against the completion of the hydro plant, local business/community leaders and environmentalists Terry Paulson, Delia Malone, Connie Harvey, Mike Maple and Ken Neubecker have again assumed their advisory roles in the grassroots effort to continue the fight. Joined by local energy expert and consultant Dr. Phil Verleger (whose studies encompass the changing relationship between the energy and economic sectors, having served in the Johnson, Ford and Carter administrations in economic advisory and energy policy positions), the leadership and coalition to stop the hydro plant ONCE AND FOR ALL is back together again, organized, informed and raising funds. The group, which coordinated the petition effort in early 2012 that captured the signatures of 953 Aspen voters who oppose the hydro plant, is responsible for overturning the zoning ordinance for the CCEC facility on Power Plant Road and in turn getting the (sadly only advisory) question on the 2012 ballot. As a reader of The Red Ant, you are aware of the hydro shenanigans. Unfortunately, many others are not. Therefore, Aspen voters are currently receiving the following letter in their mailboxes, paid for and signed by the advisors listed above and dozens of concerned local citizens who are appalled that several members of council stand to defy the voters (and common environmental and fiscal sense) with their support of the beleaguered CCEC project:
"Dear Community Member
As you're aware, in November 2012, voters in Aspen rejected city efforts to continue seeking to develop a costly, environmentally damaging hydroelectric plant on Castle Creek (CCEC). They did so because it was evident that the hydropower project was not the right choice as Aspen looks to expand its renewable energy options.
However, the CCEC is now again on the table for consideration. Recently, the city of Aspen requested a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to review possible future renewable energy alternatives for Aspen. NREL staff has indicated that a Castle Creek hydroelectric plant will be included among the list of recommendations. The city continues to spend thousands of dollars on the federal permitting process. This seems to be an end-run around the 2012 vote and a possible way for the city to move it forward despite voters' wishes.
Energy experts and environmentalists agree the CCEC is a bad idea. Recently, world-renowned energy expert Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute issued a 33-page report to city leadership against the project. 'It's clear to me, as it has long seemed to many, that the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Plant is economically unsound,' Lovins said. 'The CCEC's total cost could make it the costliest hydro plant ever built. There are attractive opportunities to achieve your energy goals with less cost, risk, and controversy.'
Environmental groups agree. American Rivers, the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates and others have urged the city to consider the serious ecological harm that would be inflicted by the large-scale water diversion needed to operate the plant, which will divert more than half of Maroon and Castle creeks' flows for several months per year. The Maroon Creek diversions never will even return to Maroon Creek. Studies show that even a small change in flow will have serious ramifications for aquatic life on the vibrant creeks and the surrounding ecosystem. In short, addressing the crisis of climate change by pursuing renewables shouldn't come at the expense of the very environment we're seeking to protect.
We believe that continued efforts to promote the CCEC are misguided. The voters of Aspen have spoken and made their voice heard on this issue. The project should be taken off the table while the city pursues alternative forms of renewable energy, of which there are many."
If you would like to support the effort to once again shut down the CCEC, even by simply lending your name, please reply to this email and I will get your info to the group. Financial contributions are additionally being sought to fund a community-wide effort to convince our elected representatives to say NO and end this nonsense. This is not a political campaign and therefore your name will not appear on any list or in any reporting without your permission. Every dollar counts. Please send your check made out to "No Castle Creek Hydro" to:
No Castle Creek Hydro
PO Box 167
Aspen, CO 81612
The large and VERY diverse group of local hydro plant opponents is well aware of the city's misleading behavior and mishandling of the CCEC, and especially the fact that council has not unequivocally told staff "NO MORE." In the absence of "NO," all staff hears is "YES." Defying the will of the voters is never a wise practice for elected representatives!! FYI - there is no municipal election this spring (thank goodness), but Skadron, Romero and Frisch all must run again in 2015. The "No Castle Creek Hydro" effort is perhaps an early shot across the bow.
Other ideas, if you'd like to get involved:
Read the Amory Lovins report HERE.
Familiarize yourself with the letter above.
Write to and talk to members of city council.
Talk to your friends. Forward this issue of The Red Ant to those who might not receive it.
Attend city council meetings and make your views known during public comment.
Donate to the cause (info above). This is a GRASSROOTS effort and every dollar helps!
Ahhhh, that nightmare of an intersection at Hunter and Durant Streets in front of Gondola Plaza: lots of people (often in ski boots), lots of cars, lots of buses, lots of ice - not a great combination. A fix is in: picture raised brick-colored paving (no step off the curb), with "rain gardens" to collect stormwater and "bulb-out" curb extensions to slow traffic and shorten crosswalks. But for $616K from the city coffers when just last year the price estimate was $413K?? What happened?? That's 50% cost increase!! Next week, the city will get busy on its spendy project, citing "higher materials and labor costs" as rationale for the escalated price increase. Really?? $203K worth?? Council "noticed" the cost increase, but simply approved it without argument. Again, when it's free money, the city (including council) is either pathetic at estimating costs (obviously) or indifferent (more likely). City engineers responsible for the project can't even speculate on whether the new set-up will enhance safety or prevent diagonal jay-walking. They merely "hope so." Swell.
Meanwhile, across town at Wagner Park, a $478K renovation has been approved by council that will provide a new irrigation system aimed at shortening the time the park is closed in the spring while the grass grows, as well as a re-graded turf surface with better drainage. These sound like good things, however, next year (2015), Wagner Park is slated for a "master plan" process which could dramatically alter the usage of the park, improvements, access, events, etc. Maybe the half-million in upgrades ought to be postponed until after the future of the park and its usage is discussed and determined? Nah, too rational. Instead, the city has committed another $338K to purchase temporary flooring to protect the park during special events. Gotta keep those Parks Department employees busy!
BIKE SHARING: WILL IT RIDE IN 2014?
Despite the bankruptcy of PBSC, the bike provider and software/management system used by Aspen's subsidized We-Cycle bike sharing program, word on the street is that the program is not in jeopardy. But this comes from the same program founder and director who chose to ignore hefty subsidies for the program as part of the annual financial statement. Before the 2014 season begins, $200K in sponsorship funding is additionally needed. With just 100 bikes in our inventory, that's $2000 per bike!
Daily News columnist Paul Menter recently reminded readers that We-Cycle incurred $65K in start-up capital costs in 2013 ($6500 per bike), part of which was covered by a state "congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ) grant. My favorite line of his recent column on bike sharing is, "Of course, the Chinese did the 'everybody rides bicycles' thing by necessity back in the '50's and '60's, so they are well-practiced. And, of course, they are communists, well versed in the art of doing what they are told to do to benefit someone else's idea of the collective good, just in case you may have forgotten who we are seeking to emulate here." He concludes, "There just are not enough non-communists willing to pay even a small portion of the cost to ride someone else's bike. Can anyone say opportunity cost? There must be a better use for a $2000 subsidy, be it public or privately funded, than to pay the cost of an overpriced shared bicycle for six or seven months." Ya think?! The Red Ant will keep you posted on We-Cycle and its 2014 funding, including the source(s). Stay tuned.
FIRE DISTRICT BOARD ELECTION
The Aspen Fire Protection District is holding a mail-in ballot election to fill three openings on its 5-member board of directors. Fire district board directors oversee the financial management of their district. The Aspen Fire Protection District has an annual budget of approximately $2.9 million ($1.7 million in operational costs and $1.2 million in bond debt for the two fire stations). That's quite a fiduciary duty for a community of this size!
Check your mailbox for your ballot if you live within the Aspen Fire Protection District. The deadline for your vote to be counted is 7p on May 6. The Red Ant is not involved in this election in terms of interviewing/querying candidates, however, the volume of inquiries I have received about this election has motivated me to share the names of the candidates for whom I have cast my ballot:
X D. Stone (Stoney) Davis
X Steven Seyffert
X Stefan Reveal
Please take 2 minutes and vote in this election. Voting in a city the size of Aspen is very important. Be a part of the process!
You are all too aware that I have been cogitating on the future of our subsidized housing program for some time. Recent meetings with similarly interested citizens have yielded many new ideas about improving the program and restructuring it so that the program's future addresses the changing needs of our community while not ignoring the needs of its residents or the structural/maintenance needs of an aging physical plant.
Do you have an idea for maintaining the physical plant of our aging facilities that also provides work-able incentives for subsidized owners to down-size, sell or upgrade their units? I've been collecting several novel ideas and have to believe that there are more out there.
What are your thoughts (for and against) a comprehensive audit of our entire 2800 unit subsidized housing portfolio? Who lives there? Are they compliant? Where do they work?
What else is on your mind about APCHA and our subsidized housing program?
Please share your thoughts and ideas. I am contemplating how to get APCHA, its board, and the principals in our local government to responsibly address and re-assess the program. At this juncture, it seems that a compilation of well-developed options rather than just the obvious criticism might be a better way to approach the issue. Flies - honey, you know. Please weigh in and let me know what you're thinking. And if you know someone in subsidized housing who has an idea, please put them in touch. I'm listening. TheRedAntEM@comcast.net