Press "Enter" to skip to content

Micro-Hydro gains popularity

Brief by Allen Best

Energy – November 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

Micro Hydro in the river

Water officials in Gunnison County are looking into the possibility of small hydroelectric projects, also called microhydro. Unlike the big dams that block streams, the microhydro technology allows the power of moving water to be harnessed to produce electricity, but often with no evidence of the turbine within the stream or creek.

“You can actually drop these turbines into the river and anchor them, and you can still raft over them and they don’t impact fish,” said Steve Schechter, a director of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

Drawing the district’s attention is new funding from a Colorado state agency for feasibility studies, plus loans of up to $2 million at low cost.

One potential sticking point, reports the Crested Butte News, is transmission. Power lines are frowned upon in the Gunnison Valley, a place of soothing hay meadows.

The thinking is that if Gunnison County can get a few kilowatts here and there from microhydro production, that will diminish the amount of electricity that must be imported from distant sources. Ironically, most of that electricity is produced by burning coal — some of it excavated in the northwest corner of Gunnison County, near Somerset, and shipped by rail to distant power plants.

And some from a dam

Our great national effort to slow or stop our expansion of greenhouse gas emissions continues, one project at a time.

In Gunnison County, that effort is yielding agreement to take a hard look at retrofitting an older dam at Taylor Park Reservoir to allow electric production. Engineers believe that dam could produce up to eight megawatts.

The dam is located between Crested Butte and Gunnison, on the western flanks of the Sawatch Range.

In the big scheme of things, this still isn’t much electricity. Crested Butte and Gunnison would still get nearly all of their electricity from the burning of coal, mostly from power plants west of Steamboat Springs.

Aspen did something similar in the 1990s, paying for installation of a turbine in Ruedi Reservoir. It has also investigated installation of a turbine in the dam at Ridgway Reservoir, north of Telluride, but that task looks more challenging.