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Utility Co-operatives Partnering With Local Groups For Hydro Projects in Colorado

Local Hydro Promise in Colorado

By Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff WriterPublished: June 7th, 2012

Two western Colorado electric cooperatives are working with local agencies to tap into the state’s hidden hydro potential at existing facilities, as identified in a recent federal report.
Officials with Delta-Montrose Electric Association and a water users group at the groundbreaking for a hydro project. (Photo Courtesy of DMEA)

Officials with Delta-Montrose Electric Association and a water users group at the groundbreaking for a hydro project. (Photo Courtesy of DMEA)

The co-op is working with the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association on this project and another, which are both scheduled to come online in July 2013, generating 7 megawatts and serving about 3,000 homes.
Delta-Montrose Electric Association, Montrose, recently broke ground on one of the two projects, a $22 million hydro plant near an irrigation canal dug more than 100 years ago. It’s the co-op’s first utility-scale project, according to officials.
Negotiating the contract and partnership with the water users group took longer than making it through the “tangled regulatory web” the co-op had to unravel to reach the point of construction, said Jim Heneghan, DMEA’s renewable engineer. Other entities involved included several state and federal agencies and Colorado’s historic preservation office.
“This small hydro project perfectly illustrates how co-ops use ingenuity, hard work and partnerships to provide their consumer-members with reliable, affordable clean energy,” said Jay Morrison, NRECA’s vice president of regulatory issues, one of several industry officials praising the project.
The other co-op-sponsored hydro project involves the neighboring Gunnison County Electric Association, Gunnison. The $2.5 million plant is still in the planning stages, but co-op officials are optimistic about future construction plans on a dam at Taylor River.
“We’re moving forward. We’ve done a feasibility study, and it’s been determined that the project could be financially viable,” said Vicki Spencer, the co-op’s energy use and communications specialist.
A co-op wants to build a hydro plant at a dam on Colorado’s Taylor River. (Photo Courtesy of GCEA)

A co-op wants to build a hydro plant at a dam on Colorado’s Taylor River. (Photo Courtesy of GCEA)
“It will take some coordination, but there’s great enthusiasm for it in the community,” added Spencer, who represents the co-op in meetings with other project sponsors, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association and the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.
Colorado has a lot of untapped hydro promise, according to a recent federal report. An assessment released in April by the Bureau of Reclamation shows that 70 percent of the nation’s potential capacity is in Colorado, Oregon and Wyoming.
The study identified more than 370 existing canals, conduits and dams that could generate an additional 365,219 MWh each year.

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