NEW CASTLE, COLO. - Using a farm or ranch's own water to produce power is a natural, according to three people with experience in hydropower projects.
They talked about their experiences at the Wednesday, Jan. 28 Ag Day in New Castle.
Old pickup alternator runs a home
Tom Golec, a longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident, has been involved with small hydro projects for over 20 years. He has supplied most of his home electrical needs on Ruedi Creek for the last 20 years with a small one-kilowatt generator powered by a spring used for domestic water.
"It's basically this old Ford pickup truck alternator," he said as he lifted it onto a table.
Golec's hydro project has required very little maintenance over the last two decades, he said.
"I just recently put in a permanent magnetic generator instead of the old Ford alternator," Golec added.
Seven years ago, he partnered with a neighbor to develop a larger 25 kilowatt system that sometimes feeds the electric grid. That project's costs broke down into $30,000 for 2,000 feet of eight-inch plastic pipe, $35,000 for the powerhouse and electric grid interface., Golec said.
"It'll likely be 15 or 20 years before we have to replace any parts," he stated. "If you maintain these, and they're designed right, they should run for maybe 100 years or more, like some of the ones you've heard about."
The 25 kilowatt system produces about 175,000 kilowatt hours a year, and Golec and his neighbor receive $14,000 a year from Holy Cross Energy and $3,000 in federal tax credits.
"So over the years, it's basically paid for itself," Golec said.
Hydropower produces no emissions, but 175,000 kilowatt hours of electricity produced from fossil fuels would put 50,000 pounds of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, he said.
"So you get a lot more bang for your buck with hydro," he said. "This hasn't complicated our lives at all, and it's been a good income source."
Most good agricultural sites are along irrigation ditches, he said.
Backward meter spinning
Joel Scott has lived in Aspen/Snowmass for 33 years with a degree in environmental conservation. He has managed the Quad III Ranch in Old Snowmass since the summer of 2003. In May 2006, the owners built a 5 kilowatt micro-hydro project powered by their 108-pounds per square inch, high-pressure irrigation system. Scott managed the project and currently maintains the system.
"I can't express how much fun it was when the meter first started to spin backwards," he said.
The year before the project was built, the ranch had $820 in retail electricity costs, Scott said.
"In the first year, we zeroed out the ranch's electric bill," he said.
The project cost $27,360 to build, but so far, the ranch has received a $10,000 check from Holy Cross Energy and $5,000 from CORE, Scott said, leaving only a $12,360 net outlay.
Power for 20 buildings
Steven Coley lived off the grid with a 75 kilowatt hydro plant for 25 years on the Rio Blanco Ranch outside Meeker, and has done hydropower feasibility studies for Indian Tribes. He is the owner of Mountain Property Resources, a renewable energy sales and development company.
Coley said the ranch powered all its 20 buildings with a system built in 1929.
"We were a basically self-sustaining community," he said.
He presented figures that said hydropower is the most efficient and lease expensive way to make electricity. While hydropower only supplies seven percent of all U.S. power needs, it includes 99 percent of power from all renewable resources, Coley said.
Hydroplants are expensive to build, he said, and regulatory approval can take up to eight years for large projects.
"Most of your costs are in the labor and the earth moving equipment," Coley said.