Energy policy hydroelectric: Aspen’s proposed generation plant update — city utilities is asking council for $1.02 million budget increase

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

The original project budget in 2007 was $6.19 million. An analysis of city records shows that increases in the budget for the pipeline makes up $1.19 million of the difference between the 2007 budget at the current requested budget authority.

The pipeline, which was mostly constructed last summer, would feed up to 52-cubic-feet per second of water into a hydroelectric generator located in the proposed “energy center” under the Castle Creek Bridge. The pipeline was originally budgeted for $1.9 million, meaning it’s cost have risen by about one-third. The city is also installing the pipeline as a precautionary measure, as it can serve as an “emergency drainline” to empty the reservoir should it ever get too full. Thomas Reservoir stores water for the municipal consumption and is located above the water treatment plant on Doolittle Drive, near the Aspen Valley Hospital.

The cost of the pipeline increased because of challenges encountered during construction, city utilities director David Hornbacher said. The alignment had to be rerouted numerous times to get around utility lines the city didn’t know were there, and the work had to be modified as required by a state permit, he said…

While most of the hydro plant’s budget overruns to date have been driven by hard costs, the big variable in ongoing expenditures is the federal permitting process.

The city recently said it would withdraw its controversial “conduit exemption” application in favor of going for the more standard small project license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The conduit exemption — which would have required a less-stringent environmental review — was based on the premise that the plant would be part of the municipal water system because it would be attached to the pipe ostensibly put in to drain Thomas Reservoir.

The FERC license requires an environmental assessment, requiring more time and money than the city had originally planned. The formal license application is expected to be submitted this summer.

More coverage from Andre Salvali writing for The Aspen Times. From the article:

“I’ve been in Aspen long enough to know the truism, ‘to delay is to deny,’ ” Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said, in reference to one speaker’s idea that the city should switch gears and explore other ways of tackling the project.

“I think there are opponents of this project who absolutely, under no circumstance, want to see it happen. The strategy in Aspen has traditionally been, ‘Well, we’ll get a new council in two years and we’ll get a new outcome.’ And we have had things in Aspen that should have been done 30 or 40 years ago because of the strategy of delay.”

Ireland and others were participating in “Hydropower in Aspen” at the Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Building. The presentation and panel discussion, which allowed questions from the audience, was hosted by the Western Rivers Institute, a Carbondale-based nonprofit that advocates healthy rivers and ecologically responsible development of hydropower…

Earlier in the forum, Ireland said the city’s plans respect the ecosystems of Castle and Maroon creeks. He said the renewable-energy project will be another way in which Aspen sets an example for other communities by working to reduce the carbon footprint and its dependency on coal-generated power.

More hydroelectric coverage here.

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