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Orchard City looks again at small hydropower

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The much-studied and eventually abandoned idea for a small hydropower generator driven by Orchard City's water plant inflows came up for discussion again by trustees on Aug. 10.

The agenda topic was prompted by a trustee invitation to Jim Heneghan, renewable energy engineer for DMEA. He outlined for the board members three options for setting up a hydro power plant. The most attractive was the same DMEA "net metering" arrangement that trustees had previously abandoned. Another issue raised is that variable seasonal water flows would impair the efficiency of a turbine that runs the electricity generator. Overcoming that inherent inefficiency would add considerable cost to a project, it was noted.

During the discussion, it was stated that the town pays $7,000 per year for propane heat at its Ward Creek water treatment plant. The idea is to cut that bill by generating electricity and converting the plant to electric heat. Heneghan calculated that the plant's water inflow, which falls 2,000 feet in elevation from the top of Grand Mesa to the treatment plant, could, at least on paper, generate more electricity than the plant uses.

The idea of a hydro power installation at the water plant was previously discussed and evaluated by trustees. A committee of the board looked at the idea over a period of almost two years. Engineering work was done on the idea and a consultant was retained for handling federal government paperwork needed for approval.

It was noted during the town board's discussion last week that another Delta County municipality has a similar hydro power installation that is not working efficiently. In addition, Cedaredge has recently decommissioned its water plant hydro generator after many years of non use.

Mayor Ken Volgamore noted that the Orchard City hydro project idea was finally dropped when the payback period on the required investment was determined to be too long -- up to 20 years long. That was seen as making the project financially unfeasible.

No action was taken by the board on the matter.

In other business, the Orchard City Town Board dealt with the following matters at its regular Aug. 10 meeting:

• Trustees discussed reports from the water committee about troubling water utility issues. Staff vacancies including the lack of an "A" licensed treatment plant operator and openings in the public works crew are the source of some concern. Plant operations are being overseen by Project 7 personnel and interviews for a new operator are scheduled.

The monthly water audit revealed problems at a pressure reducing valve location resulting in "a couple of 100,000-gallon spills." Also, spilling of an even larger large amount of treated water at the treatment plant tanks over a period of several month has also occurred. The spills were detected by in part with aid of automated monitoring equipment and the attention of sharp-eyed public works employees. There is also "another leak" on the West Main Line that needs repaired.

• Trustees had a discussion about the merits and drawbacks of having all water line projects in town installed to engineered design plans, and requiring all "as builds" to be fully documented. It was noted that changes to installation plans of the West Main Line were made by contractors and were not documented.

• The trustees approved an agreement with School District 50J for use of the Field of Dreams ball diamonds for the girl's high school softball program this year.

• Staff announced the annual Town Picnic will take place at the Town Park Pavilion beginning at 11 a.m. this Saturday, Aug. 20.

• Trustees approved a variance request. The request was for a second road access to a 70-acre parcel at 11599 Highway 65. The second access approved is off of Running Deer Road. The reason stated for the variance was that the owners want to build a second residence on the property on the west side of Surface Creek. Without the variance, a bridge over the creek would be required.

• Trustees gave an approval to the re-subdivision of Lot 2 of the Grant Subdivision in the Vaca Drive area.

• The rebuilt irrigation pump has been installed at Town Park, and reseeding of stressed grass areas will take place.

• Mayor Volgamore extended compliments and thanks to town staff for extra work and effort through a difficult time of staff vacancies and vacations.

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Surface Creek
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hydropower, Orchard City
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