Environmental groups want investments in clean energy and water conservation

Media Contacts
Bessie Schwarz

Environment Colorado

Groups request that Fort Collins study alternatives to the Windy Gap Firming Project

Fort Collins, CO – At the very moment in history when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy Security Act (ACES) — which created huge investments in renewable energy and water conservation to fight global warming — the citizens of Fort Collins are being asked to do the exact opposite.

On Tuesday, August 11th, at the Fort Collins City Council work session, the City will discuss whether to spend at least $38 million of electric raterpayers’ money on the Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP), a project that has nothing to do with wind, but rather is a huge dam/reservoir project that will further drain the Colorado River, pipe the water through the Continental Divide to 12 Front Range cities, and send part of the water to the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) which is 1/2-owned by the City of Fort Collins. PRPA is the second largest participant in WGFP, and will pay at least $38 million for the project.  PRPA will use WGFP water to further support its coal-fired “Rawhide Station” power plant.

Environmental Groups wrote a 6-page letter to the City outlining their concerns about WGFP (available for download here, titled: “Clean Energy, Clean Water for Northern Colorado”). The environmental groups contend that:

  1. WGFP is extremely expensive, high risk, and might not be permitted.
  2. WGFP is a “junior water right” on which oil shale companies have more senior rights that can be claimed in the future.
  3. WGFP is a “junior water right” that might not be available if climate change occurs.
  4. WGFP participant cities have very high water use rates and propose to waste exorbitant amounts of water (40% of their water is used to keep bluegrass green for 3 months in the summer).
  5. WGFP will severely negatively impact the Colorado River.
  6. WGFP participant cities should implement alternatives to the project, including water conservation.
  7. Fort Collins should implement alternatives to the project, including energy and water conservation, and should require that PRPA study and implement alternatives to the project.
  8. PRPA’s coal-fired power plant is a huge greenhouse gas emitter that should not warrant more financial support.
  9. PRPA should invest in energy conservation and low-carbon energy production involving renewables and natural gas, rather than wasting at least $38 million more on dirty and polluting coal power.
  10. Fort Collins should be a leader in the Clean Energy Economy so that the City and its citizens can compete in the 21st Century, rather than support outdated and destructive programs that subsidize coal power and river destruction.

EPA “Objects to the project

The Windy Gap Firming Project, which was planned over 30 years ago, will have a total cost of at least $272 million, and send new Colorado River water to 12 water-wasting cities along the northern Front Range.  In its official comments on WGFP, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — which has ultimate ‘veto’ power over the project — “objected” to the project, stating that WGFP would “exacerbate water quality impairments” in the Colorado River, and might “violate” the Clean Water Act.  The EPA’s comments are available for download here. In addition, the EPA said the the 12 cities should be “required before any action is considered, to take part in a number of conservation efforts that would boost the use of existing water supplies before building new infrastructure, dams, and reservoirs.”  The cities participating in WGFP have proposed future water use rates of 217 gallons per person per day, which is almost 30% higher than current water use rates in progressive cities like Boulder.  Fort Collins’ current water use rate is also way lower at 155 gallons per person per day.

“This project defies global warming science and defies this moment in America history,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action.  “Spending at least $38 million to drain the Colorado River to support a coal-fired power plant would be like asking our U.S. Senators to vote ‘no’ on ACES and instead subsidize swimming pools and Hummers for every American household.  It makes no sense.”

The Platte River Power Authority purchased the right to use Windy Gap water 35 years ago and began using a portion of it in electricity production soon afterwards.  The “Windy Gap Firming Project” proposes to create a new massive reservoir to store even more Colorado River water for use at PRPA.  The City of Fort Collins has determined that electricity production at coal-fired power plants emits 45% of all greenhouse gas emissions created by the citizens of Fort Collins (report downloadable here).

“We are at a moment in history where we must investigate and implement alternatives,” said Gary Wockner.  “What are the alternatives to spending at least $38 million on coal power and river destruction? We request that the City of Fort Collins and PRPA ask the question and study alternatives.”

The City of Fort Collins currently spends about $350,000 per year on water conservation, which is one hundred times less than the cost of WGFP. 

“If we spent the $38 million on water and energy conservation in Fort Collins,” continued Wockner, “it could dramatically reduce our future water and energy needs, decrease water and energy prices, dramatically increase efficiency, and makes us a more competitive community in the 21st Century.”