renewable energy development
Ruthie Brown installed a small hydro system near the base of Humphrey’s Ranch Dam near Creede, Colo. Such projects are attracting the attention of policymakers.
for Small Hydro
With its large untapped capacity,
small hydro is attracting policymakers’ attention
as a job-growth opportunity.
By Kurt JohNSoN
VOL. 26, NO.1
Copyright © 2012 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
In 1923, Colorado industrialist A.E. Hum- phreys built a 90-foot-tall (27-meter-tall) concrete arch dam on his ranch outside of Creede. Almost 90 years later, his great-granddaughter, Ruthie Brown, realized that
the dam created a perfect opportunity for small
hydro. With support from a U.S. Department of
Agriculture grant, construction on a 310-kilowatt
(k W) hydro plant was completed last July.
There is no standard definition of what constitutes “small hydro,” although the word “small”
is sometimes used as a proxy for “
environmentally preferable.” Small-hydro installations are
typically either run-of-river (diverting a small
percentage of a stream for hydro generation)
or take advantage of existing infrastructure,
including dams, pipelines and irrigation canals.
The Low Impact Hydro Institute has certified
a wide range of project sizes, reflecting the fact
that project capacity size is not a reliable indicator of environmental impact.
Small hydropower is not a new idea. In 1891,
the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant near
Telluride, Colo., went online with engineering by Nikola Tesla. The 3.5-megawatt (MW)
Ames plant was the world’s first power plant to
generate, transmit and sell alternating-current
electricity for commercial purposes. In 2010, the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
re-licensed the Ames plant, granting the 119-year-
old plant another 40 years of operation.
Mountain communities where hydro once
was the only local source of electricity are taking
another look at the resource. The city of Aspen,
Kurt Johnson ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is director
of the Colorado Small Hydro Association and principal at Telluride Energy, a small-hydro development
firm. Telluride Energy advises clients on all phases
of project development, taking client project ideas
from concept to concrete. Current Telluride Energy
client projects total 15 megawatts of new small-hydro