On the morning of Aug. 30 a field tour sponsored by the Delta Conservation District left the Delta County Fairgrounds in route to Powell Mesa. Its destination: A newly installed small-hydro power generation facility just north of Hotchkiss that has benefitted by years of work to enable inspection and approval of small hydropower facilities in Colorado. The District has conducted several small hydropower workshops over the past few years.
The installation is the first for the multi-agency Pressurized Irrigation Small Hydropower Partnership Project, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). During the next few years, the program is expected to create 30 on-farm hydropower projects in Colorado.
"This project helps farmers by putting their water to work, creating electricity that lowers their power bills," said Don Brown, Commissioner of Agriculture. "We are very proud of this project and how it gives producers a way to cut their costs and use their resources efficiently."
The Hotchkiss installation helps veterinarian and farmer Susan Raymond use water already flowing in her irrigation pipeline to generate electricity to offset the power used by her veterinary practice and alfalfa operation. When the water is not being used to feed her three center-pivot sprinklers, it flows through the 8-kilowatt hydropower generator attached to the pipeline. The newly created power is then transferred into the Delta Montrose Electric Association power grid.
The $50,000 project was finished in early July with $32,800 in assistance from four funding programs, including the Colorado Department of Agriculture's "Advancing Colorado's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency" (ACRE3) program, the NRCS' Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Rural Development's (RD) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and the Delta Conservation District. The project also used some very hard working and innovative local contractors including Gardner Energy, Black Canyon Resources, High Country Equipment, Matt Ventura Building, Precast Concrete and Scott Electric.
A second Colorado project is under construction near Kersey to help a farmer there use the energy in his irrigation water to generate electricity. That will help offset the electrical bill for his farm. That project uses "low-head" hydropower technology because the available pressure in the surface-fed water is low, as is the case with many agricultural water supplies.
Back at the Powell Mesa project there is plenty of head pressure from the delivery box that sits high above Dr. Raymond's fields, and she uses that excess pressure to turn two power generating turbines. The turbines have four water input hoses each and these turn on and off automatically to adjust for flow changes in the pipeline. During the August tour, participants were able to enter the building that houses the turbines to get a glimpse at how they work.
Dr. Raymond provided an overview of how the project came together, from its initial conception through its design and installation. "It took a coordinated effort from many partners to make this happen," she told the group. "A lot of people worked together and we got a high quality project out of it."
Before heading back to the fairgrounds the group was able to ask questions about the rules and regulations with which Dr. Raymond's project had to comply. The state electrical inspector, for example, had many concerns that needed to be met before he would sign off on the turbines.
Paul Maudlin of the Delta Conservation District (DCD) has installed a similar turbine setup at Excelsior Orchards in Paonia. He attended the tour also and spoke about recent revisions to state regulations that allow an Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) certification exemption for electrical devices that may not have been specifically tested for small hydro electricity generation. As a member of the DCD Board of Supervisors, Maudlin testified in 2014 before the Senate Agriculture, Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His testimony detailed the need for removing Colorado's UL requirement for small hydro turbines. When the first bill did not fully clear the way for approval of small hydro turbines, the DCD worked with state legislators, the Colorado Energy Office, the Colorado Small Hydro Association and DMEA to get a second bill signed into law. The approved bill benefits all of Colorado by making the inspection and approval process easier for small hydro installations. Maudlin also spoke about the streamlining of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensing requirements for small hydro. The FERC requirements made small scale projects nearly impossible in the past.
The overall hydro program is funded and assisted by 14 agencies and groups, collectively contributing $3 million to the effort for project funding and technical assistance for Colorado agricultural producers. The 14 partner agencies and groups are: USDA - Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS); Colorado Department of Agriculture ACRE 3 energy grant program; USDA - RD Rural Energy for America Program (REAP); Colorado State Conservation Board; Colorado Energy Office; The Nature Conservancy - Colorado; American Rivers; Colorado Water Conservation Board; Colorado Association of Conservation Districts; Colorado State University Extension; Colorado Small Hydro Association; Colorado Rural Electric Association; Rocky Mountain Farmers Union; and Hydro Research Foundation.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture is looking for more producers who want to participate and Delta County was recognized in a state study as having multiple potential small hydro power sites. Sam Anderson, the department's lead official for the hydro program, said the department will help producers apply to the funding programs. Applicants must be eligible to receive funding from the EQIP program. To start the application process, contact Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.