Basalt’s small hydro

Basalt’s microhydro produce energy for 30 to 40 houses

BASALT, Colo. – Basalt got a lot of help to harness the power of the water tumbling down from the two springs, Lucksinger Springs and Basalt Springs, which have provided water for the town since its founding as a result of new railroads arriving in the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1880s.

Holy Cross Energy, with a mission to more rapidly decarbonize, agreed to buy power at 8 cents a kilowatt, a rate significantly higher than the cost of coal-generated electricity. The cooperative provided a $300,000 loan, with the money to be repaid in electricity. This up-front money avoided the need for Basalt to take out a loan, thereby eliminating interest costs.

Basalt also benefited from $119,000 in federal money, part of the stimulus program of 2009, passed down through the Colorado Energy Office.

It got still other assistance, and Basalt town officials don’t regret moving forward with the project. The 40 kw system can deliver the annual power needs of 30 to 40 homes. The federal permitting process, however, was difficult.

But Bentley Henderson, public works director for Basalt, admits that the difficulty of the FERC licensing process was greater than he or anybody else expected. It might have discouraged others.

“If somebody were looking at this and did the research on the licensing process, that may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “It wasn’t in our case, but it is a significant undertaking.”

Basalt used the project to also improve the water delivery system, upgrading with ductile iron piping. The pipe delivers a net pressure at the turbine of 140 to 160 pounds per square inch.

Even with an attractive power-purchase agreement with Holy Cross Energy, Basalt estimates a payback of 20 years on the investment. A more optimistic project reported in a case study for the Colorado Energy Office calculated a payback of 11.4 years.


About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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