The promise of a plentiful yield of salable, self-generated electricity from renewable, green energy is a promise unfulfilled for two Surface Creek towns.
Putting the renewable energy model to economic use is proving to be a lot more difficult, complicated and expensive than Cedaredge or Orchard City thought it would be when they embarked on their separate hydropower projects.
Orchard City's hydropower project is stalled by design problems and regulatory snags. The Town of Cedaredge's hydropower installation will very likely be officially abandoned later this month.
The Town of Cedaredge has had a turbine and electricity-producing generator installed on the inflow to its water treatment plant since 2002. It has been unused for at least the last 10 years, according to a federal energy official. Prospects for putting the device into profitable operating repair now are poor; so poor, in fact, that the town trustees are considering abandoning the project completely.
Just to the west of the Cedaredge water treatment plant over in the Ward Creek drainage, a proposed hydropower installation project at the Orchard City treatment plant has succeeded in getting a $10,000 grant to pay a consultant to apply for necessary federal permits. Another $10,000 in town cash was spent in a futile effort to get workable engineering designs. The Orchard City project has been mired for two years in a nearly fruitless exercise of engineering design false starts, ever-increasing cost estimates, shifting payback calculations and doubts over how much self-generated electricity the town would be allowed to use or sell.
At Cedaredge, the trustees were faced last month with an unpleasant choice:
• Spend additional hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair or replace the present hydro unit;
• Or bow to federal regulation and surrender the town's valuable federal permit exemption to operate the hydro unit because it hasn't produced any electricity in more than 10 years.
The trustees have to decide this month. Comments made during the trustees' May 16 meeting were leaning toward surrender of the permit exemption.
Both of the Surface Creek Valley towns have also encountered problems in the economic equation of small hydro generation. Both towns could, at least on paper, generate a lot of electricity with their treatment plant inflows. But there is a problem selling that excess electricity. A DMEA rule allows only the single electric meter at the treatment plant site to get credit for power generated. So, the huge excess electric generating capacity beyond what is needed to run the treatment plants goes to economic waste. Though DMEA "is considering" a change in that policy, any change will come late to help Cedaredge's permit exemption conundrum.
This "net metering" problem is compounded by another regulation that limits DMEA to 5 percent of locally generated power, a memo from the utility explains. The utility's South Canal project will produce almost that much electricity. This leaves anyone else who wants to become an independent power producer with no place locally to sell the electricity they generate.
As one small hydro project after another takes up the promise of using the vast turbine-turning energy of Grand Mesa runoff to make green electricity, one after another gives way to regulatory and economic defeat. Another, private small hydro project on a UVWUA ditch west of Delta that got highly publicized grant funding from the Governor's office two years ago remains unbuilt today for the same reasons that have stymied the Cedaredge and Orchard City projects.
Another private proposal idea for the south side of Grand Mesa never made it to the regulatory launch pad.
The federal agency that has life-and-death authority over small hydropower projects, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is promising still more regulations to streamline and simplify its mind-boggling permitting processes.
And still, even among those who have felt the shock of small hydro's unfulfilled promise, renewable green energy has its fans. Orchard City's project is officially "on hold" awaiting possible good news from DMEA on its net metering policy that will change the economics of the project and allow it to move forward. And at Cedaredge, the town staff is fully on board.
A recent staff memo to the Cedaredge town trustees says, "It is agreed among town staff that hydroelectric generation is in the town's future." The memo expresses optimism that "once this exemption is terminated, more energy can be focused on other energy efficient options and future hydro planning as regulations are updated that truly capture the intent of renewable energy."blog comments powered by Disqus