Roaring Fork Valley: Friends of Rivers and Renewables forms to promote ‘civil discussion’ the proposed hydroelectric generation station

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From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

The organization, Friends of Rivers and Renewables, is an offshoot of Old Snowmass resident Tim McFlynn’s nonprofit Public Counsel of the Rockies. McFlynn served as a mediator last year in negotiations between city officials and Castle Creek project critics, a process that led to the city’s “slow start” concept for the plant and other compromises.

Old Snowmass resident Chelsea Congdon Brundige, a documentary filmmaker and conservationist, will serve as director of the new organization. The group is seeking to provide a “grassroots educational effort to engender a more collaborative, less confrontational discussion of the important issues raised by the city’s proposed hydropower project,” according to a statement.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Brundige said she understands that city officials and other project supporters likely will look upon her group as another gadfly organization that hopes to cast the Castle Creek Energy Center in a negative light and eventually stop the project. But that’s far from the case, she said.

“This is a project that we would like to pursue for at least the next 10 years,” Brundige said. “The nexus between what we do in western Colorado about energy and what we do about water are going to be the two most important subjects for the next 50 years. All you have to do is look at the drought that we’re going to have this summer and realize how important it is for us to dig really deep and develop a good understanding and community dialogue about what our clean energy choices are and what we should be doing to protect our rivers and streams.”

Meanwhile, Aspen’s report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission contained errors. Here’s a report from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

City officials say once the mistakes in the report are corrected, the estimate of net power to be produced by both the new Castle Creek hydro plant, and the existing Maroon Creek plant, will likely be shown to be 6.1 million kilowatt hours a year, down from a previously estimated 6.4 million hours.

The report, as it was submitted to the federal government, indicated that the net power generated by both plants would be 5.4 million kilowatt hours.

The report, an “assessment of project operation, stream flow and power generation” relating to the proposed Castle Creek Energy Center, was dated Wednesday, April 4 and submitted to FERC the same day.

It was prepared by Kerry Sundeen, a hydrologist and president of Grand River Consulting in Glenwood Springs, who has been advising the city on its proposed hydro project for several years.

At least some of the information in the report was specifically requested by officials at the FERC, which is in the process of reviewing the city’s license application for the new hydro project.

Mitzi Rapkin, the city’s communications director, said that Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick noticed some of the mistakes over the weekend while reading the report, and that a story in Monday’s Aspen Daily News prompted other city officials to take a closer look at the report.

Here’s a report about FERC’s visit to Aspen this week, from Curtis Wackerle writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

But Jim Fargo, a project manager with the FERC based in Washington, D.C., said the city of Aspen’s proposal is on the agency’s radar to a greater extent than other small projects. For one, he said he’s seen in submitted public comments, and in the local press, sufficient confusion about the federal licensing process the city is entering. So he gave a presentation at Tuesday’s public meeting to the 50 or so gathered on the “traditional licensing process,” explaining how it requires a vetting of all studies presented and a review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). At best, the remainder of the licensing process will take another two-and-a-half to three years, he said.

Later in the process, people can formally contest information and file protests. However, “because of the level of controversy on this project, it’s being treated like it’s already a contested proceeding,” Fargo said.

Anyone is welcome to contact him at his office with process questions — (202) 502-6095 or james.fargo@ferc.gov — but he said he can’t debate the merits of the project due to the formal nature of the proceedings.

At this stage in the game, the city is still in the pre-application phase. Within 12 to 18 months, it will officially submit its license application and go through a NEPA process, requiring either an environmental assessment document or an environmental impact statement. But at this point, the feds are interested in public and stakeholder comments on what else still needs to be done — as far as studies conducted or data collected — to fully understand the project’s environmental impacts, said meeting facilitator Pamela Britton of Community Engagement Associates, who was hired by the city.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

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