Water Lines: Hydropower kicks off at nearby Ridgway Dam #ColoradoRiver

Ridgway Dam
Ridgway Dam

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

When Ridgway Dam was constructed on the Uncompahgre River back in the 1970s and 1980s, hydropower was anticipated to be one of its uses — along with providing irrigation water, drinking water and flood control.

Mike Berry, general manager of Tri-County Water (company operating the dam), continues to look for opportunities to start generating hydropower since 2002.

It wasn’t until this month, however, this vision was finally realized.

In June, Tri-County Water officially commissioned a new eight-megawatt generating station powered by water flowing through the dam.

Finding a customer to buy the power at the right price was the key allowing the project to go forward.

The $18 million project is financed through the City of Aspen. The agreement includes payment of a premium for the power generated by Ridgeway Dam for a few years of the 20-year contract in exchange for better rates later.

Tri-County will also sell power to Tri-State Generation & Transmission and the Town of Telluride.

The power generated by Ridgway Dam will vary seasonally, with peak generation coinciding with large summer releases of water to downstream irrigators. The Grand Junction Sentinel reported last week the plant will produce a total of about 24,000 megawatt hours of electricity in an average year — enough to supply 2,500 average homes and eliminate 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

The Ridgway Dam generating station was commissioned just one year after the completion of a 7.5-megawatt power generation project on the South Canal — carrying water from the Gunnison Tunnel near Montrose to the irrigators of the Uncompahgre Valley.

Both the Ridgway Dam and South Canal projects avoid the opposition previous hydropower projects faced because it’s installed on existing infrastructure and harvesting power from the regular operations of the facilities. As a result, irrigation deliveries are uninterrupted and no additional disruptions to river flows.

Interest in retrofitting existing water infrastructure to add power generation capability has surged in recent years. Both the State of Colorado and the federal government have made moves to support the trend with new laws to streamline the permitting process.

Finding customers for the power generated at affordable prices for construction is one of the key challenges faced by those interested in developing such facilities. Low prices for natural gas and the irregular supplies generated by such projects are complicating factors in working out power purchase agreements.

On the other side of the equation, renewable energy standards passed by Colorado and other states have created new opportunities.

From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

A decades-long quest to convert the power represented by the 84,600 acre feet of water pent up behind the dam into clean, green hydropower came to fruition at a commissioning ceremony hosted by Tri-County Water Conservancy District [June 6].

Tri-County’s new 8 megawatt hydroelectric plant will produce approximately 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in a typical water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 homes, on average. The emissions reduction benefit from the new plant is equivalent to removing approximately 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (the same effect as taking about 4,400 cars off the road each year).

Federal officials including Larry Walkoviak, the Upper Colorado Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton were on hand at the commissioning ceremony on Friday to praise the project’s merits.

But the folks who are really celebrating this historic moment are those who have steered the hydro project through choppy waters toward its completion including officials from Tri-County and the City of Aspen, which helped fund the project and is purchasing a significant portion of the energy it produces.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Green and grassy, Ridgway Dam looms high 15 miles southeast of Montrose, holding back Ridgway Reservoir. It’s flanked by a rocky ridge and U.S. Highway 550, with the Uncompahgre River bubbling up from the base of the dam to a prized stretch of trout water running through Ridgway State Park.

There is more to Ridgway Dam, though, than appearance.

“It’s not just a beautiful pile of dirt,” said Ion Spor, who has managed the dam for decades for the Tri-County Water Conservancy District.

Ridgway Dam is now generating electricity, eight megawatts worth during the height of the water year.

Tri-County — referring to Montrose, Delta and Ouray counties — commissioned the generating station earlier this month, marking the culmination of a project that was anticipated well before construction of Ridgway Dam, begun in 1978 and completed in 1987. Ridgway Reservoir filled in 1990.

The dam was built with hydropower in mind. Pipes were run through the dam in anticipation of someday being hooked up to generators, said Mike Berry, Tri-County general manager.

After years of debate, Tri-County opted to move ahead with the $18 million project. It reached agreements with Aspen, Telluride and Tri-State Generation and Transmission to get enough money for the project.

The station also generates power for the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the San Miguel Power Association.

As part of its agreement to purchase power, Aspen is buying renewable-energy credits created by the project during winter months. Telluride is purchasing the credits that are created by the project during summer months.

Renewable-energy credits represent the added value and environmental benefits of the electricity produced by the generating station.

Tri-County will use the revenues generated from the sale of the electricity and renewable-energy credits to repay loans on the project for the first 30 years and then to offset its operating expenses, Berry said.

Tri-County’s generating station contains two turbines and generators.

The smaller is a 0.8-megawatt system, which will operate solo during the winter when flows are low, in the range of 30 to 60 cubic feet per second. The larger, 7.2-megawatt system will operate on flows of 500 cfs during the summer.

Both generators are in a powerhouse at the base of the dam.

The plant will produce about 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in an average water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 average homes and eliminate the equivalent of 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

Now, Tri-County needs one thing to make the system work, Berry said.

“We’re counting on Mother Nature,” Berry said, “To bless us with enough water to repay the notes.”

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.

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