2012 Colorado November election: City of Aspen hydroelectric project on the November ballot


From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

One [ballot question], arguably the most controversial, is a referendum question that asks voters whether the city should continue with a hydroelectric project on Castle Creek…

With regard to the hydroelectric plant, the city’s voters will be asked the following “advisory” question: “Shall the city of Aspen complete the hydroelectric facility on Castle Creek, subject to local stream health monitoring and applicable government regulations, to replace coal-fired energy with renewable energy?” The council and city staff agreed to the ballot language at an Aug. 28 work session, and no members of the audience spoke up to oppose it.

So far, the city has spent about $7 million on the hydroelectric project, which aims to take a portion of the water flowing from Castle and Maroon creeks to generate enough power to cover 8 percent of the city electric utility’s needs. In 2007, when voters approved a bond-issue referendum that set the hydroelectric project into motion, the project cost was estimated at $6.2 million. Cost overruns have resulted in a revised estimate of $10.5 million to complete the plant.

A petition drive led by local residents Ward Hauenstein and Maurice Emmer early this year set off a chain of events leading to the referendum question. The petition sought to overturn the council’s December rezoning decision allowing public land off Power Plant Road to be used for the plant. The proposed plant has drawn fierce opposition from some Castle Creek property owners as well as the nonprofit group American Rivers.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Fort Morgan: The current market for electricity will not support a hydroelectric generation facility


From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

The hydro project, we’ve looked at it for quite a long time,” Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Project Manager Carl Brouwer told the council.

He pointed out that due to the nearly 1,300-foot elevation difference on the water pipeline between Carter Lake and Fort Morgan, “there is great potential for power generation.”

The big question the council has had for years is whether it would be feasible from a cost-benefit standpoint to put in a hydroelectric system in that pipeline. The council had asked Northern to look into this for both the district and the city, and Brouwer presented the results of the feasibility study to the council Tuesday night.

There would not be a problem with installing a small, in-line hydropower generation unit, he said, but with prices being where they are, it would cost more than the revenue it created. The project would cost a little more than $1.2 million, and the return on the project would be dependent upon the rates the city could get for putting electricity back into the power grid.

Right now, those rates are running less than eight cents per kilowatt hour, which is the minimum the city would need for a system that would barely do more than break even. Historically, the rate had been 4 cents, but it changes with the energy market.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Runoff contamination in the Cache la Poudre River from the High Park Fire is causing a supply problem for Greeley Water


From KUNC (Kirk Siegler):

John McCutchan of Greeley Water says since the High Park Fire, area water managers have had to throw out the book on how they treat water coming from the Poudre River.

“It’s new for us to have to be watching the Poudre night and day. We’re all faced with the same situation.”

Many Northern Colorado water utilities are tied to the Poudre. And McCutchan says Greeley’s water rights on the river are too important to “Let go down stream. Especially in a drought period.”

McCutchan is the Superintendent of Greeley’s Bellevue Water Treatment Plant which filters water from the Poudre River -a key source for Greeley’s drinking supply.

The normally “pristine” Poudre is the cleanest source of water in the country, McCutchan says. But since the recent fires, the river has been running black with ash and other contaminants. And that has the potential to clog up the Bellevue Plant…

But runoff from the scorched-black earth around the Poudre has sent large particles of ash along with increased levels of iron and manganese swirling down the river.

If massive amounts of these contaminates were allowed to enter the filtration system, it could render the holding ponds useless because they’d quickly fill up with sludge and sediment.

To help mitigate any damage and very costly repairs, Greeley has limited its intake of Poudre River water to just 5 percent after the fire compared to an average of 25 percent for this time of year…

This means the city of Greeley and John McCutchan are going to have to take a hard look at what’s going to happen when they’re forced to rely more heavily on the contaminated Poudre.

“Everyone has had the same kind of problems. You can remove most of the contaminates, but some of the compounds that bring the taste and odor issues, the smoky flavor, are very difficult to remove.”

The city of Fort Collins has just started blending water from the Poudre back into its supplies. Each water utility knows that things will change depending on rain and the subsequent runoff into the Poudre. They’re also looking ahead to next spring and the annual winter snow melt, and what that runoff will mean for the river and next year’s water supply.

More Cache la Poudre River coverage here and here.

A growing thirst for water in the arid west complicated by shale gas exploration and production


From The New York Times (Jack Healey):

A single such well can require five million gallons of water, and energy companies are flocking to water auctions, farm ponds, irrigation ditches and municipal fire hydrants to get what they need.

That thirst is helping to drive an explosion of oil production here, but it is also complicating the long and emotional struggle over who drinks and who does not in the arid and fast-growing West. Farmers and environmental activists say they are worried that deep-pocketed energy companies will have purchase on increasingly scarce water supplies as they drill deep new wells that use the technique of hydraulic fracturing.

And this summer’s record-breaking drought, which dried up wells and ruined crops, has only amplified those concerns.

“It’s not a level playing field,” said Peter V. Anderson, who grows corn and alfalfa on the parched plains of eastern Colorado. “I don’t think in reality that the farmer can compete with the oil and gas companies for that water. Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours.”

But industry officials say that critics are exaggerating the effect on water supplies. [ed. emphasis mine]

Energy producers do not — and cannot — simply snap up the rights to streams and wells at the expense of farmers or homeowners. To fill their storage tanks, they lease surplus water from cities or buy treated wastewater that would otherwise be dumped back into rivers. In some cases, they buy water rights directly from farmers or other users — a process that in Colorado requires court approval.

“This is an important use of our water — to produce energy, which is the foundation of all we do,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “Think about the big users of water — agriculture, industrial development. All these things require energy.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.