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Progress on a hydroelectric project in Gunnison County

The idea of a hydroelectric project at Taylor Park Reservoir, at the foot of Cottonwood Pass, has been talked about for decades, maybe longer. The dam was completed in 1937 and was originally designed to incorporate a hydroelectric facility.

Now comes news, via the Crested Butte News, of planning in a collaboration of the Gunnison County Electric Association and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. In 2020, they formed the Taylor River Hydro to jointly develop, own and operate the plant. The team members report that they are about 60% of the way into the design phase. It will cost $3.2 million.

Once completed, the plant will be capable of deliver 500 kilowatts of electricity 24/7/365.

Once this and two solar projects are completed, Gunnison County Electric will be generating close to 7% of its own electricity. The balance will be delivered by Tri-State Generation and Transmission, as before.

What was the hangup? Electric infrastructure, says Mike McBride, the chief executive officer of Gunnison County Electric.

“And still is in part,” he tells Big Pivots. “We were finally able to move forward by re-envisioning the project and by reaching agreement for a smaller project with our partner.”

He adds this: “The economics haven’t really changed from GCEA’s perspective in a decade or more. Predictable/dispatchable hydro has always been more valuable than unpredictable/intermittent solar and wind. In our situation, we also expect the cost of power from this 500 kW hydro project to be well below what we will pay for solar power from our 1,000+ kW (1+ MW) projects).

Big Pivots had wanted to know if the base-load generation that will be provided by Taylor Park hydro has become more valuable as intermittent renewables have become a larger portion of electrical generation. He confirmed this was the case. But it wasn’t key.

“What held this project up was not economics, but rather infrastructure. The water resource could support a 3+ megawatt facility, but the 18 miles of power lines between the dam and the substation are insufficient for that much generation and would need to be upgraded at a cost of nearly $3 million. That doesn’t even consider that 6 of those 18 miles are under the road in a tight section of the canyon where the road would also need to be replaced,” he wrote.

“It wasn’t until we were able to reach an agreement with our partner, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users, to pursue a smaller, phase one project, that we were able to move forward. Expansion of the project when the infrastructure can be upgraded remains a possibility, and that will be most economical when the county redoes the 6 miles of road in question.”

Jared Polis goes underground for his initiative as incoming chair of Western Governors Association

As the incoming chair of the Western Governors Association, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis seems to have chosen an initiative for the next year that can appeal broadly across the political spectrum: geothermal.

Geothermal has several different iterations. When the year-round temperature of 55 to 60 degrees is found in the ground 8 to 10 feet below the surface, it can be used for both heating and cooling of buildings. Drilling down deep into the ground can deliver enough heat to generate electricity, as is already done in California’s geyser country northeast of San Francisco.

What’s not to like? Democrats love emissions-free energy, and Republicans love to drill and dig.

Oh, it’s probably not that simple. In seriousness, look for a deeper dive on this in the next issue of Big Pivots.


Colorado Electric Transmission Authority taps Kathleen Staks as the temporary chair

The Colorado Electric Transmission Authority had its first official meeting on Friday, Aug. 22, and the major outcome was selection of Kathleen Staks as the interim chair.

Her chief tasks will be to help negotiate legal counsel for the new organization and also a website.

The nine-member board was created by legislation in 2021. It has delegated broad authority to fill in the gaps of transmission in Colorado beyond what the utilities are planning.

One question mark that the new agency may address is how to unlock solar potential of the San Luis Valley. The valley has among the best solar resources. There is not as much sunshine as in the desert Southwest, but the high elevation results in less heat, which has benefits. Louis Bacon, a landowner at La Veta Pass, blocked a previous effort to build transmission from the valley. Underground – if very expensive – remains an option. There is a railroad crossing across the pass. A tourist train currently goes up the pass from Alamosa.

Allen Best
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