Tri-County Water Commissions 8-MW Ridgway Dam Small Hydropower Plant

Colorado’s Tri-County Water Conservancy District has commissioned the 8-MW Ridgway Dam small hydropower complex.

Built on an existing U.S. Bureau of Reclamation-owned dam along the Uncompahgre River, construction of the US$18 million plant began in November 2012.

The plant includes two turbines and generators — one 800 kW system and a 7.2 MW system. The smaller unit will produce power in winter flows of 30-60 cubic feet per second, while the other will use 500 cfs flows during the summer.

“Here in the arid west, reliable drinking and irrigation water to grow our local food necessitates water storage facilities like Ridgway Dam,” Trout Unlimited representative Cary Denison said. “It makes sense to develop hydro at Ridgway Dam for the generation of new, emissions-free energy, using an existing clean energy resource which would otherwise be wasted.”

Power generated by the project will be sold to the city of Aspen and Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Aspen is buying the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) created by the plant during the winter, while Telluride is purchasing the RECs created in the summer.

Revenues generated from power and REC sales will be used to repay loans on the project for the first 30 years, after which it will be used offset Tri-County operating expenses.

Tri-County Water funded the project in large part with a $13 million 30-year loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with an additional $2 million coming in the form of a 20-year loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.

The project’s use of existing infrastructure appealed to the Colorado Small Hydro Association (COSHA), which earlier this year helped champion legislation that encourages small hydropower growth within the state.

“Only about 3% of the nation’s dams currently include hydropower,” COSHA President Kurt Johnson said. “There is an enormous untapped opportunity to generate new clean energy using existing infrastructure.”

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