Efforts for small-scale hydropower become law

Cutting red tape opens opportunity for emissions-free power

Tipton Enlarge photo


WASHINGTON – Coloradans might have lower electricity bills in the future as a result of U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s hydropower bill enacted into law last week.

The measure would not only create more jobs, but also help increase the amount of green energy being produced, said Josh Green, a spokesman for Tipton, R-Cortez.

Under the new law signed Friday by President Barack Obama, companies can develop small hydropower projects on existing conduits under U.S. Bureau of Reclamation jurisdiction without further environmental analysis.

“Canals and pipelines in Colorado, if developed, can generate as much power as the Glen Canyon Dam – enough emissions-free power for a million homes,” Green said in an email.

This means companies can install hydropower generators in pipes, canals and ditches that already have been approved by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Previously, each site needed an additional environmental analysis under this act to build small hydropower projects.

“(This would) delay the project for quite some time and impose an additional cost and make the project infeasible,” Green said.

However, these sites now are considered under the categorical exclusion of NEPA, which means they do not need to be re-evaluated before starting hydropower projects.

There are 323 human-made conduits throughout the U.S. that can be used for hydropower use, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. Twenty-eight of those are in Colorado at Colbran, Smith Fork, Paonia, Uncompahgre and Dolores.

“Moving forward, we should start to see an impact relatively soon,” Green said.

Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, said the bill is a welcome change for the district, which has sites potentially suitable for small hydropower plants on its canals.

“Small hydropower on the Dolores Project is an opportunity to produce and sell clean energy that does not affect water supply,” he said. “There are seven or eight elevation drops on our canals where there is an opportunity for hydropower, and so now we will be able to better pursue those plans.”

The most likely site for a new hydropower plan is on the Towaoc-Highline canal, and the project is being negotiated with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

Indiana Reed, spokeswoman for La Plata Electric Association, a rural electric coop that serves part of Southwest Colorado, said she was unsure if the bill would have a local impact.

LPEA receives only a small amount of its renewable energy from hydroelectric sources, Reed said.

Tipton said he was honored to lead a “common-sense” bipartisan effort to pass House Resolution 678, The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act.

“Hydropower is the cheapest and cleanest source of electricity available through modern technology, and a key component of the all-of-the-above energy platform that I continue to strongly support,” Tipton said in a news release.

Information from the Cortez Journal was used in this report. Paige Jones is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at pjones@durangoherald.com.

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