“This is a low risk opportunity”
Following a tour of local waterways in mid-September, several organizations are considering the Taylor Park Dam as a potential source of hydroelectric power generation.
The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Group, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and Gunnison County Electric Association (GCEA) are each contributing $5,000 toward a feasibility study of two different hydropower scenarios identified for the dam.
Taylor Park is about 25 miles southwest of Crested Butte as the crow flies, and is a popular recreational area and reservoir in Gunnison County.
The interest in Taylor Park hydropower started in August when UGRWCD members Bill Nesbitt and Steve Schechter attended a conference to learn more about new hydropower generation technology. Following the conference they invited representatives from the Denver-based energy planning firm TCB Aecom on a tour of local waterways on September 14 to see where small projects would be possible.
Prior to the tour, the UGRWCD members had felt that hydropower along the Taylor or Gunnison Rivers could pose some big hurdles, such as negotiating water rights, installing transmission lines and infrastructure, and protecting the environment.
During a UGRWCD meeting on Monday, September 22, manager Frank Kugel reported that the hydropower engineers from Denver felt the dam holding back Taylor Reservoir had the most potential for hydropower. “They were very excited of the potential for hydropower at Taylor,” he said.
Nesbitt said the tour confirmed suspicions that the Taylor Park Dam had been designed to some extent for small hydropower production. The dam has two large pipes, or “penstocks,” that channel water from the reservoir downstream along Taylor River. Nesbitt said, “The second penstock is clearly broadened to drop something (i.e., a hydropower turbine) into it.”
Nesbitt said there is also a transformer box, and transmission lines leading away from the discharge station at the base of the dam. He says the hydropower engineers believed one megawatt of electricity could be generated at Taylor Dam with minor development. The engineers also said Taylor has the potential to develop a peak of eight megawatts, but that would require more significant infrastructure and development.
According to a press release from GCEA, CEO Mike Wells estimated, “A hydropower project on the Taylor River had potential for meeting base load power requirements for approximately 400 homes stretching from Tin Cup south to Almont and north to Crested Butte South.”
Kugel said the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority is offering matching grant money to conduct hydropower feasibility studies, and the deadline to apply is October 18. “I recommend we pursue the grant money and do a feasibility study on the two hydropower alternatives at Taylor Park,” he told the UGRWCD board.
UGRWCD board member Ralph Grover agreed it was a good idea to investigate hydropower potential at Taylor Park. “This is a low-risk opportunity to stick our finger in the bathtub and test the temperature,” he said.
But UGRWCD attorney John McClow said the district is statutorily prohibited from being a partner or owner in a hydropower project. “You can build a dam, but not for power generation,” he said. However, McClow said, “I don’t think the statute prohibits you from participating in this feasibility study as a sponsor.”
Board members agreed it was something the UGRWCD should be involved in.
“I don’t want to become a power company either, but facilitating water use is something we should encourage,” said board member Dennis Steckel.
Schechter related the situation to climate change, and the need for power producers to burn less coal to stop global warming pollutants.
“Climate change could reduce our water supply 30 to 40 percent,” Schechter said. “If we can find some way to burn less coal, it’s ultimately going to benefit this organization in the long run.”