Aspen: City council approves zoning for proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric generation plant

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From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

For nearly nine hours split between two meetings at Aspen City Hall on Monday, experts, consultants, residents and city officials debated the pros and cons of the proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric facility.

When the discourse was finally over at 10:20 p.m., the City Council voted unanimously to advance the project, conditionally approving a staff request to rezone property off Power Plant Road west of Aspen for a 1,761-square-foot building that would serve as the plant’s operations center. The vote also removes the land from the city’s open space inventory…

Council members heard from numerous opponents throughout the day, some of them landowners along the banks and within the watershed of Castle and Maroon creeks. An afternoon work session was designed to answer questions elected officials had about the project at large; the council’s regular meeting during the evening was supposed to focus only on the land-use request. In both instances, the public was allowed to comment…

The day began at 11:30 a.m., prior to the 1 p.m. work session, when representatives of the Washington, D.C.-based group American Rivers discussed a report it commissioned to evaluate the economic feasibility of the project.

The report, conducted by Tier One Capital Management LLC, questions the city’s estimate of $10.5 million for the project’s cost and puts the actual price tag at more than $16 million, citing interest payments on bonds used to finance construction. City officials have disputed the report and its conclusions, saying that it contains “egregious errors.”

At the work session, City Manager Steve Barwick discussed financial aspects of the plant and noted that the city need only spend a little more than $3 million more to complete the project. Most of that amount is for the building on Power Plant Road. An estimated $275,000 has been projected for handling the FERC application process.

Barwick stressed that the project is the best way to further the city’s goal of supplying 100 percent renewable energy through its electricity utility. He said every financial model shows that the new plant would save the community money in the long run.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

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