Application submitted for Taylor Dam hydropower

Making hundreds of local houses more green

[ By Mark Reaman ]

Tapping into “green” electricity generated from the dam up Taylor Canyon could happen as early as next year. The idea of a hydropower generation plant being installed at the Taylor Dam took a new step forward this week and could ultimately provide sustainable electricity for literally hundreds of local homes.

The Gunnison County Electric Association (GCEA) in conjunction with the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) that owns water in the Taylor Reservoir has sent an official application to the federal government to construct such a facility. Meanwhile the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) is watching the progress and coordinating with the other entities to craft agreements that detail how the plant would operate.

The U.S. Department of the Interior published a notice in the Federal Register last September officially announcing a “notice of intent to accept proposals, select a lessee, and contract for hydroelectric power development at the Taylor Park Dam.” Written proposals are to be submitted by Friday, January 29, 2021. It was made clear that any proposal cannot interfere with current water uses. It is stated that lease negotiations with the Department of Reclamation could take up to two years while planning and construction could be up to another five years.
The GCEA and UVWUA sent a joint proposal on Tuesday, January 26 for such a hydro-electric project to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

GCEA chief executive officer Mike McBride explained that the electric co-op and UVWUA have a memorandum of understanding that was signed in February of 2020 “in which the two entities intend to create an LLC to own and operate the facility. An operating agreement for the LLC has been drafted by GCEA and presented to UVWUA but it has neither been finalized nor signed. An agreement with respect to certain operating conditions has also been drafted by UGRWCD and provided to both GCEA and UVWUA. The terms of that agreement have been accepted in principle, but that agreement has not been finalized or signed either.”

Under the pending agreement, GCEA will not apply for any water rights associated with the project. Water flowing through the turbine over the course of a year will belong to either UVWUA or UGRWCD depending on which entity the release is for. The draft agreement makes clear that any such hydro-power project has to take into consideration and not negatively impact current water uses provided by the dam and reservoir such as water supply for agriculture and irrigation, recreation and downstream fisheries.

UGRWCD general manager Sonja Chavez explained that because the district is beneficial owner of a second-fill water right in Taylor Reservoir the agreement is necessary to protect that existing right and the uses it authorizes.

McBride said that the project would ideally happen pretty quickly and be operating by the fall of 2022. He said final design could happen before this October and the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) review and approval process could take place between then and May of 2022. If ultimately approved, construction could then start immediately and be completed by October 2022. The dam was originally built in 1937.

“This is an optimistic timeline and the process, which includes opportunity for public comment, could take longer than indicated,” McBride admitted. “The actual construction though can be completed in one summer due to the relatively small size and proposed design, and planning will be completed during the permitting phase.”

The hydropower generation would be expected to produce 3,800 megawatt-hours or three-percent of GCEA’s annual power supply. McBride said that using the average consumption of GCEA’s residential accounts (650 kWh/month) it could power about 487 local homes.

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