Telluride Eyes Micro-Hydro Projects
by Karen James
Jan 13, 2011 | 2291 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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TELLURIDE – As the new solar photovoltaic system at the Telluride Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant gears up to go online to eventually cut the Town of Telluride government’s fossil-fuel derived energy use by about 10 percent annually, the town is setting its sights on future renewable energy projects to further whittle away at its carbon footprint.

On the drawing board are plans to harness energy from running water through micro-hydropower systems, and the Telluride Town Council learned more about them when it met during a special meeting to discuss its 2011 goals and objectives last week.

The first project is a feasibility study of the town’s existing wastewater and water systems to determine where it would make the most sense to install turbines to generate electricity.

“The goal is to have the whole system analyzed and have most promising locations highlighted…and to learn how much it would cost,” said Public Works Project Manager Karen Guglielmone, who anticipated the town will issue a Request for Proposal for the analysis in the coming weeks.

As it stands now, valves found throughout the system are used to bleed off pressure from the town’s existing, gravity-fed system.

“That energy could be used in the right circumstances,” she explained.

In addition to its ability to generate power using existing infrastructure, retrofitting the existing system for micro-hydro would not require additional staffing for monitoring, would have no adverse environmental impacts, and would not require potentially controversial institutional or public process elements, according to a list of project benefits identified by Guglielmone in a memo to council.

Still, financing for the project, which could reduce the town government’s electric use by about 9 percent from 2009 numbers and its carbon emissions by about 6 percent for the same year, could emerge as a potential challenge.

The second micro-hydro project slated for completion in the coming year would be to install a continuous discharge monitoring station upstream of the Jud Wiebe Bridge as recommended in the 2009 Stillwell Micro-Hydro Feasibility Study.

Its goal would be to obtain real-world discharge data to refine the study’s cost-benefit analysis and to better quantify its potential adverse environmental impacts, including drying up approximately 1,800 feet of Cornet Creek and Cornet Falls for a portion of the year.

“We have to find out what is the actual discharge in Cornet Creek,” explained Guglielmone, who indicated that the existing studies have so far relied on hydrologic modeling.

“It would be useful to have more refined data.”

A first, recommended option being considered by the town would repair an existing diversion dam on Cornet Creek above the falls and run a new, pressurized pipe to a small powerhouse near the Jud Wiebe trailhead.

Preliminary production estimates suggest the project could produce between 780,000 and 980,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually, or about one-third of the town government’s 2009 electric use. It would also eliminate 22 percent of its 2009 carbon emissions, for roughly $1.1 million.

A second option would require a new diversion dam be build on Cornet Creek above the Stillwell adit and replacing the existing water line from the adit with pressurized pipe to the same powerhouse site near the Jud Wiebe trailhead.

While the option could potentially produce between 2 and 2.5 million kilowatt hours of energy annually (or 84 percent of it’s 2009 government electric use to eliminate 63 percent of its 2009 carbon emissions) it would come with a much higher price tag of about $3.3 million. It would also require federal permitting that could add as much as three years to the project schedule. As a result, town staff is not recommending the option be pursued.

“The goal would be to have a data logger in place for the flows before this summer season,” said Guglielmone.

The town also plans to explore the installation of a micro-hydro system in conjunction with the eventual construction of the Pandora Water Treatment Plant and a power purchase agreement for the electricity generated at the Bridal Veil Powerstation.

Whether or not such an agreement could be reached, however, is really up to its owner, the Idarado Mining Co.

The micro-hydro projects would help Telluride’s government meet its goal of lowering its 2005 carbon emissions by 20 percent by the year 2020 and help the region chip away at its goal to offset 100 percent of its electrical needs with new, renewable energy sources by 2020 as articulated by Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser and Mountain Village Mayor Bob Delves in their 2009 mayoral challenge to the community known as the Telluride/Mountain Village Regional Renewable Energy Initiative – or Telluride Renewed.

“We’re looking at every renewable energy source that we can conceivably use here,” said Fraser.

“It’s the only way that we’ll be able to achieve the goals that we put in place.”

Fraser said that although the amount of power generated by a micro-hydro system will vary based upon the flow of the water feeding it, it can do so 24 hours a day, seven days a week compared to an average of 5.6 hours a day for the WWTP solar array.

“It allows us to get a bigger bang for our buck because it is available all the time,” he said.
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