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Mountain News: Aspen faces food, energy questions



ASPEN, Colo. — Can Aspen use less electricity? Sure, say experts, who describe energy efficiency and conservation as the "vegetables" that should be consumed before the dessert of renewable energy.

But like broccoli, many people would just as soon not become energy efficient.

That's the policy conundrum Aspen city officials now find themselves in after a defeat at the ballot box in November. The story really starts in 2005, when the city government issued a climate change manifesto called the Canary Initiative. Among other goals, the plan identified a 2015 deadline for producing all of the electricity distributed to consumers of Aspen Electric from renewable sources. That includes about two-thirds of the electricity used in the town.

In achieving that goal, Aspen had a giant head start, due to several decisions made in the 1980s and1990s to reduce dependence on coal. With further purchases of wind-generated power, the utility is now 75 per cent divorced from coal and natural gas. Retrofitting of an existing dam between Telluride and Montrose to produce electricity will further push the utility to 89 per cent.

But the low-hanging fruit was to have been replacement of a hydroelectric plant that was decommissioned 50 years ago. By diverting water from two local creeks, Castle and Maroon, the plant was projected to displace another eight per cent of the electricity now produced by burning coal.

Although originally approved by voters in 2007, the hydro project ran into increasing opposition, in part because of the perceived impacts to the local creeks. By a narrow margin, Aspen voters in November expressed their dislike of the project.

While that vote did not formally demand an end to the project, council members agreed to reconsider. One argument is that instead of producing more electricity, Aspen needs to figure out how to do more with less.

The Aspen Daily News reports that the city is now talking about toughening up regulations, to demand greater efficiency. The city has had voluntary programs that offer incentives for businesses to reduce energy consumption, but the program has been largely ineffective, according to Phil Overeynder, the city utilities engineer.

Steve Barwick, the city manager, says regulations could be created, but it would be a long and difficult process. And Mayor Mick Ireland said he supports such regulations, but expects strong pushback from the community.

The Aspen Daily News reports that four people spoke in favor of the new approach of greater efficiency. Ken Neubecker, who has broad expertise in water matters, said he believes it can work. He said he constantly hears people say that conservation and efficiency will not be able to meet the gap between supply and demand. "But the problem with water is that they just don't make any more of it," he added.

In other words, more can truly be done with less.

Small hydro to help Yellowstone go green

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, Wyo. — A small hydroelectric plant has started operations at the northern gate to Yellowstone National Park.

Park officials say the $1.1 million micro-hydro plant can deliver electricity equivalent to what is needed in 100 homes and will pay for itself in saved electricity costs in 12 years.

Unlike a hydroelectric plant proposed at Aspen, this system relies only on water already diverted from several streams for treatment as drinking water. The power plant taps the energy of water as it travels more than 152 metres downhill.

The Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle explains that U.S. Army engineers installed a 100-kilowatt turbine to provide electricity to Fort Yellowstone in 1903.The plant continued to produce electricity until 1966, when commercial power became abundant and cheap.

The new plant will help Yellowstone reduce its carbon footprint. The National Park Service has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 15 per cent by 2016, the centennial of the formation of the Park Service.

Park City would like to spread the wealth

PARK CITY, UTAH — While Aspen continues to work diligently to hang onto the X Games each January, Park City remains vigilant about its ties to the Sundance Film Festival.

The 11-day festival draws all the cinema crowd from across the country and film critics from the major newspapers, not to mention Paris Hilton and her entourage. It fills up the town.

The Park Record says that town leaders would prefer that the festival was rescheduled, so that it didn't overlap with Martin Luther King weekend. As is, skiers who might otherwise come find Park City's pews already filled.

But Sundance likes the current schedule, so that it can be the first major film festival of the year.