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Aspen Hydro Project Slammed By Energy Expert Amory Lovins

As Kermit said, "It ain't easy bein' green." Of course, he was simply talking about being a furry frog with a crush on an obese pig-like princess. The City of Aspen, on the other hand, is having a tough time with one of the key projects of their Climate Action Plan - marketed as "The Canary Initiative" - which seeks to lower the city's greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below 2004 levels by 2020, and 80% below by 2050. The Castle Creek Energy Center is a new hydro power facility set to go in on Castle Creek below the Highway 82 bridge and just upstream of the former hydro plant, and is set to generate 8% of the town's overall electricity needs while reducing greenhouse gases by 5,000 tons a year, or the equivalent of taking 908 cars off the road. Yet the high-minded project just received a serious raking by Aspen neighbor and world-renowned energy expert Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

"It's now clear to me, as it's long seemed to many, that CCEC is economically unsound," Lovins said in an exhaustive 33-page letter to the City Council. Voters approved the project with a $6.2 million budget back in 2007, but even when disregarding the cost of the financing needed to keep the project going, that budget has grown to $10.5 million. Lovins recommended the city achieve its greenhouse gas emissions reductions through energy efficiency measures, chiefly retrofitting commercial lighting around town and retrofitting the city's existing hydro plant at Reudi Resevoir. He also criticized the city's assumptions surrounding the project, such as the idea that coal prices were going to rise and make the project more economically feasible. "The real power prices CCEC would avoid are likelier to fall than to rise," Lovins said.

Despite this and the half of town that voted against continuing the project in the fall, Aspen is still seeking a license for the project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Mayor Mick Ireland refuted some of Lovins' critiques, saying instead that "There isn't any guarantee that he's right, or not." The full text of Lovins' 33-page letter can be read here.

· Amory Lovins highly critical of city's hydro proposal and process [Aspen Daily News]