There’s no Hot Water!

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” gushed a city of Aspen spokeswoman with no scientific or business expertise. The “opportunity” about which she was excited was the city’s idea to get into the geothermal-energy business.

That was five years ago. Now there’s, well, less excitement. In place of the excitement, we have a $300,000 hole in the ground.

How exactly did our money get out of our pockets and down that hole?

It all started when the city heard rumors that miners in the old days emerged from the mines all hot and sweaty. (You don’t say! A hot and sweaty miner?)

So the city government wished, and therefore believed, that there was free geothermal energy to be had. See how exciting this is?

The city’s first step was to partner with experts in the utilities industry who had lots of specific experience in the production of geothermal energy.

Ha! Now I’m kidding, of course. It did no such thing because this is the gang that thinks it knows everything from running restaurants to producing hydroelectric energy to renting bicycles to real estate investing. Besides, what’s to know? It’s not rocket science; it’s just geothermal-energy generation.

No, instead, the city contracted with an outfit called Dan’s Water Well. Dan’s business is pumping money into the ground and pumping water out of it.

But wait — another exciting thing happened first. The city would get $50,000 in “free money” to pursue its “free energy” in the form of a state grant funded by other taxpayers. Even better, there was talk about getting another $3.5 million in additional “free money” in the form of a federal grant funded by faraway taxpayers. (The federal “free money” never materialized.)

Dan started drilling next to the Roaring Fork River by Herron Park in fall 2011. It was supposed to take him 30 to 45 days and $200,000 but wound up taking nearly two years and $300,000.

The first hole never hit water. It didn’t just fail to find water that was hot; it failed to find any water at all. That was quite an accomplishment, considering that the hole was only 100 feet from the river. Maybe Dan should have drilled horizontally.

The second hole finally did find water. It wasn’t at the 1,000 feet that was supposed to be the maximum for the hole but at 1,500 feet.

The tide went out on whatever excitement remained when the water was only 70 degrees. Even Dan likes his bathwater warmer than that.

The good news, they report, is that the pressure of the water is sufficient that it bubbles right up without the need for much pumping. So the water can be obtained for a cost that is equal to its value: zero. (That’s if you don’t include the $300,000 cost of drilling the well.)

Now the only excitement left and the only energy that is being produced are in the city’s frantic effort to spin this boondoggle as something other than dead in the water.

The spin cycle revolves around conjecture and hope that the water was perhaps warmer — maybe 90 degrees — at the bottom of the hole and that it cooled as it rose to the surface. The city infers from this that its hole isn’t exactly a gold mine but that it could be a silver mine. Or maybe copper. OK, at least tin.

This requires us to ignore three facts. First, the city doesn’t actually know the temperature of the water at 1,500 feet because it hasn’t put a thermometer down there to measure it. It’s possible that it is 90 degrees and it cooled off as it rose through the hole, as the city hopes and conjectures. But it’s also possible that it is 70 degrees — that it was 70 degrees at the bottom of the hole and it stayed 70 degrees when it came up the hole.

Second, even if the water is indeed 90 degrees at the bottom of the hole, that doesn’t represent a geothermal resource. Geologists know that the temperature of Earth’s upper crust typically goes up about 4 to 5 degrees for every 100 meters of depth. So at the bottom of a 1,500-foot (about 460-meter) hole, the temperature should be about 18 to 23 degrees warmer. In short, Dan found, at best, what he would find anywhere that is not geothermally active.

Third, the city itself said back in 2008 that it hoped to find water with a temperature of 140 degrees. (It takes about 200-degree water for the production of electricity, but the city’s hope was that 140-degree water might be useful to heat buildings — provided that a whole new insulated water-circulation system were designed and built to bring it from the hole to the buildings before if cooled off.) The city now says that the conjectured 90-degree water is “on the low end” of what might be useful. I suppose that in a sense 90 is indeed on the low end of 140. The very low end.

The bottom line is, first, that this latest episode of City Hall bureaucrats playing amateur scientists/businessmen has failed and, second, that the city is not candid about the failure. After going 50 percent over the budgeted money, going a total of 150 percent over the budgeted hole depth, going 2,000 percent over the budgeted time, disturbing neighbors to no end and creating a two-year eyesore, all we have is a financial black hole.

Maybe they can plug the hole with their never-used $1.5 million hydroelectric generator.

Published in The Aspen Times on July 13, 2013 at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/7528910-113/hole-degrees-energy-dan

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Fly the Affordable Skies

Airfares into and out of Aspen are not cheap. United Airlines explained that it’s all about the rules of economics.

But wait — this is Aspen! Here, we have replaced the rules of economics with the rules of government. After all, the city government is, or wants to be, in at least the following businesses:

• The affordable-hotel business, to ensure that homeless skiers who have just dropped $114 on a lift ticket can spend the night here before hitchhiking back to their shelters downvalley.

• The affordable-restaurant business because they have to eat, too (slopeside, of course).

• The affordable-housing business.

• The affordable-bicycle-rental business, where for a few bucks you can rent a bike for which the government paid $6,500 and which looks like it was made for $23 in the Soviet Union.

• The free-bus business, where, oh, don’t get me started again on the stone phalluses and concrete eggs (which are apparently orphans ­— no one will admit responsibility for laying them).

• The subsidized-movie business, where the Wheeler recently announced that taxpayer money will pay for “full digital cinema projection technology” (owwhhh!).

• Imaginary hydroelectric and geothermal energy businesses because, you see, the City Council knows more about energy generation than the utility companies.

• The residential real estate market, where the city has adopted a, shall we say, contrarian approach of “buy high, sell low.”

• The health-club business because, after all, if the city didn’t keep us fit, who would?

Sorry if I left out some.

So all aboard. If the city can get into the affordable hotel, restaurant, housing, bicycle, bus, movie, hydroelectric, geothermal, residential real estate and health-club businesses, why shouldn’t an affordable-airplane business take off?

Here’s the flight plan:

First, the city must buy some airplanes. Let’s get the kind that run on the city’s imaginary geothermal and hydroelectric power.

Spend money painting the airplanes with a psychedelic ’60s motif just like the firetrucks and ambulances because people won’t use a firetruck, ambulance or airplane that is drab.

Outlaw “free market” seats in first class. The fare for the first-class seats will depend on how much of your income you disclose.

Rich people will be allowed, but they have to ride coach, they have to pay extra, they have to wear down and not fur, and they have to get vilified.

We have lots of flights around Christmas and only a few in April, even though it’s easier to get a hotel room in April. So they should delay some of the Christmas flights a few months till April.

Lots of Australians come here. I like Australians, mate, but they aren’t very diverse. So cancel the flights from Australia and launch new flights from, say, the Congo and Cambodia. Congolese and Cambodians don’t ski, you say? Well, of course not; that’s because there are no flights to Aspen.

The speed limit for the airplanes will be 18 mph.

Each flight will have at least 100 flight attendants (dressed in polyester bell-bottoms to complement the paint job on the airplane). But since they will be city employees, the 100 flight attendants will not serve the passengers. Instead, the passengers will serve the flight attendants.

Adjacent to the airport, the city can spend gobs of money on an airplane museum to give people a reason to come here, as they did with the wildly successful $5 million fire-station museum downtown.

Of course, for safety reasons, there will be height restrictions around the airport except, of course, with respect to government buildings.

They can blow a big airport horn each day at noon just to remind everyone who’s boss.

They should stencil graphics of airplanes onto the runways, just like the new bicycle graphics on all the downtown streets. That way, the pilots will know where to land the airplanes.

(By the way, I think the city should stencil little pedestrians on all the sidewalks so people will know where to walk, stencil little tricycles on all the driveways so kids will know where to ride their tricycles and stencil a clown in front of City Hall on Galena Street so that people know where the circus is.)

Speaking of the pilots, they will be the City Council. I know there’s not much expertise on council ever since we term-limited the tennis instructor who could afford only one name and the Irish bike-wrecker. But I’m sure the remaining Renaissance men and woman know just as much about flying an airplane as they do about the hotel, restaurant, bicycle, housing, bus, movie, geothermal, hydroelectric, residential real estate and health-club businesses.

Buckle up.

Published in The Aspen Times on July 11, 2013 at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/7261071-113/affordable-business-airplane-airplanes

Fly the Affordable Skies

Airfares into and out of Aspen are not cheap. United Airlines explained that it’s all about the rules of economics.

But wait — this is Aspen! Here, we have replaced the rules of economics with the rules of government. After all, the city government is, or wants to be, in at least the following businesses:

• The affordable-hotel business, to ensure that homeless skiers who have just dropped $114 on a lift ticket can spend the night here before hitchhiking back to their shelters downvalley.

• The affordable-restaurant business because they have to eat, too (slopeside, of course).

• The affordable-housing business.

• The affordable-bicycle-rental business, where for a few bucks you can rent a bike for which the government paid $6,500 and which looks like it was made for $23 in the Soviet Union.

• The free-bus business, where, oh, don’t get me started again on the stone phalluses and concrete eggs (which are apparently orphans ­— no one will admit responsibility for laying them).

• The subsidized-movie business, where the Wheeler recently announced that taxpayer money will pay for “full digital cinema projection technology” (owwhhh!).

• Imaginary hydroelectric and geothermal energy businesses because, you see, the City Council knows more about energy generation than the utility companies.

• The residential real estate market, where the city has adopted a, shall we say, contrarian approach of “buy high, sell low.”

• The health-club business because, after all, if the city didn’t keep us fit, who would?

Sorry if I left out some.

So all aboard. If the city can get into the affordable hotel, restaurant, housing, bicycle, bus, movie, hydroelectric, geothermal, residential real estate and health-club businesses, why shouldn’t an affordable-airplane business take off?

Here’s the flight plan:

First, the city must buy some airplanes. Let’s get the kind that run on the city’s imaginary geothermal and hydroelectric power.

Spend money painting the airplanes with a psychedelic ’60s motif just like the firetrucks and ambulances because people won’t use a firetruck, ambulance or airplane that is drab.

Outlaw “free market” seats in first class. The fare for the first-class seats will depend on how much of your income you disclose.

Rich people will be allowed, but they have to ride coach, they have to pay extra, they have to wear down and not fur, and they have to get vilified.

We have lots of flights around Christmas and only a few in April, even though it’s easier to get a hotel room in April. So they should delay some of the Christmas flights a few months till April.

Lots of Australians come here. I like Australians, mate, but they aren’t very diverse. So cancel the flights from Australia and launch new flights from, say, the Congo and Cambodia. Congolese and Cambodians don’t ski, you say? Well, of course not; that’s because there are no flights to Aspen.

The speed limit for the airplanes will be 18 mph.

Each flight will have at least 100 flight attendants (dressed in polyester bell-bottoms to complement the paint job on the airplane). But since they will be city employees, the 100 flight attendants will not serve the passengers. Instead, the passengers will serve the flight attendants.

Adjacent to the airport, the city can spend gobs of money on an airplane museum to give people a reason to come here, as they did with the wildly successful $5 million fire-station museum downtown.

Of course, for safety reasons, there will be height restrictions around the airport except, of course, with respect to government buildings.

They can blow a big airport horn each day at noon just to remind everyone who’s boss.

They should stencil graphics of airplanes onto the runways, just like the new bicycle graphics on all the downtown streets. That way, the pilots will know where to land the airplanes.

(By the way, I think the city should stencil little pedestrians on all the sidewalks so people will know where to walk, stencil little tricycles on all the driveways so kids will know where to ride their tricycles and stencil a clown in front of City Hall on Galena Street so that people know where the circus is.)

Speaking of the pilots, they will be the City Council. I know there’s not much expertise on council ever since we term-limited the tennis instructor who could afford only one name and the Irish bike-wrecker. But I’m sure the remaining Renaissance men and woman know just as much about flying an airplane as they do about the hotel, restaurant, bicycle, housing, bus, movie, geothermal, hydroelectric, residential real estate and health-club businesses.

Buckle up.

Glenn K. Beaton lives in Aspen and would like an affordable airplane ticket out when he just can’t take it anymore.

(Published in The Aspen Times on July 11, 2013 at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/7261071-113/affordable-business-airplane-airplanes)