Energy policy — hydroelectric: Uncompaghre River hydroelectric plant update

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From The Durango Telegraph (Allen Best):

The electrical production will be relatively small, 22 kilowatts, but enough to power the pumps used to circulate water at the nearby Ouray Hot Springs Pool. It is, in the eyes of Bob Risch, the mayor of Ouray, a start of what he hopes to see more broadly – not just in Ouray, but across the San Juans and beyond. “A bunch of small facilities like this can add up to a significant contribution,” says Risch, an astronomy teacher now retired in Ouray, where he was born and raised…

With access to seed money through the federal stimulus program, many small governments and some individuals have been taking a new look at small hydro across the Colorado Rockies and more broadly across the West. A forum held in Ouray during June drew 100 people, and a similar session held in Durango recently attracted 50 participants.

The potential is great. In a broad-brushed survey conducted several years ago, the Idaho National Laboratory concluded that 1,800 megawatts of electricity could be produced within Colorado without invading wilderness, roadless or other sensitive areas. This compares with the 1,500 megawatts output from the proposed Desert Rock coal-fired plant in New Mexico. More selectively, Colorado energy officials did a quick study of 100 sites, with potential for 100 megawatts – without building new dams, they hasten to add.

Congress has also started paying attention. A subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing in July to find out what the federal government could do to expedite development of what Grace F. Napolitano, chairwoman of the subcommittee, characterized as low-hanging fruit. “Small hydropower is not the sole answer to generating enough renewable energy to meet our future needs, but it should be an important part of the solution,” she said in an opening statement…

A small hydro installation in Cortez had been identified as feasible even 20 years ago. But federal money administered through the Governor’s Energy Office recently tipped the scale. The project harnesses the power of water flowing year round in a canal from McPhee Reservoir to the town’s water-treatment plant. The unit produces 240 kilowatts of electricity, more than enough to operate the water-treatment plant and enough to feed back into the electrical grid. The extra power is sold to Empire Electric…

Silverton, too, may get a small hydro plant. There, the San Juan County Historical Society has received $140,000 in grant funding and hopes for another $50,000 to build a generating plant at its Mayflower Mill, located two miles east of Silverton. Even with the low flows of fall and winter, production would more than pay group’s $500 to $600 monthly electrical bills for the historical society’s museum in Silverton. “This is huge for our little old historical society,” says Beverly Rich, the president. “We don’t get any other subsidies or tax moneys.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

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