Microhydro lands in the San Juans

A new take on a tried and true source of renewable energy is coming to the far side of the San Juan Mountains. Town officials in Ouray hope to secure a $20,000 grant that will allow them to generate electricity from the power of falling water.

Ouray has had one hydroelectric plant since the 1880s, one of the four longest-continuously operating plants in the world. It generates 800 kilowatts, which used to be enough to supply much of the town’s electrical needs.

But Ouray’s electrical use has grown in recent years. To help reduce reliance upon coal-generated electricity, the town has taken several measures. First it replaced incandescent lights with LEDs, which use far less electricity and last considerably longer.

Next, the town hopes to harness the power of gravity through a small hydroelectric plant, called a microhydro unit. The proposed plant could generate 20 kilowatts of electricity and would offset the energy required to pump water from the town’s geothermally heated hot springs through a water purifier.

Mayor Bob Risch, who ran for office on the platform of making the town “energy responsible,” says it costs $2,000 a month to operate the pump. The town, he said, hopes to save $20,000 annually through installation of the microhydro unit.

Meanwhile, work continues on a bigger hydroelectric plant in Aspen, one able to produce 5.5 million kilowatt hours annually. Aspen voters agreed to issue $5.5 million in bonds to pay for the facility on Castle Creek. The Aspen Times says that when the hydroelectric plant goes into production, likely late next year, it will reduce the community’s carbon footprint by 0.6 percent.

At a recent meeting of several mayors from Southwest Colorado, including those from Ouray and Telluride, electrical providers noted that there are many new ideas for electrical generation. However, they added that more efficient use of existing electricity is even more important.  “We have a responsibility to serve our members’ demands,” said Wes Perrin, a Telluride resident and president of the Board of Directors for San Miguel Power Authority. “But, if we can make members more aware of energy efficiency, we can lessen that demand.”

Scott Graham vies for commission

A familiar name is hoping to step back into local leadership. Former Durango City Councilor Scott Graham this week announced his candidacy as a Democrat for the La Plata County Commission District 1. The position will be contested next November and is currently held by Joelle Riddle, who recently switched party affiliations from Democrat to Independent. “Next year’s commission election is shaping up to be one of the most important in the history of La Plata County,” said Graham.

Graham, a 48-year-old Durango native, has a long history of public service. In addition to serving on council, he has held seats on the local water board, La Plata Economic Development Action Partnership and the Durango Open Space Advisory Board. Graham said if elected he would use his background to focus on safeguarding local water supplies, invigorating the local economy, supporting local food production, and attracting more primary-care physicians to La Plata County.

In sharp contrast to Riddle, he noted that the safety and security of La Plata County’s drinking water supplies – municipal as well as rural – currently are threatened by proposed natural-gas drilling and the potential pumping of hydraulic-fracturing chemicals. Plans to drill in the nearby Perins Peak State Wildlife Area, a mere half mile from streams that could contaminate Durango’s drinking water, are of particular concern to Graham.  

“Given steadily increasing concerns about the potential for drinking-water contamination by hydraulic-fracturing chemicals, the last thing we should be doing is considering drilling near La Plata County’s most critical drinking-water-supply intakes,” he said.

Graham, who has worked for a natural gas provider, did note the importance of the resource to La Plata County’s economy. “It’s precisely because of my background in the industry that I know La Plata County represents the point of the spear on the issue of potential drinking-water contamination by hydraulic fracturing ,” he said. “We’re one of the first populated regions in the nation to face this issue.”

Graham added that his centrist votes as a city councilor from 2007-09 demonstrated he is a moderate Democrat dedicated to representing all La Plata County citizens. “I’ll hit the ground running on behalf of La Plata County’s citizens in working to assure our local economy rebounds strongly from the current economic downturn,” he said.

Colorado guts the lending industry

Colorado’s housing market suffered an unusual blow this week. On Monday, the Colorado Division of Real Estate deactivated 4,560 mortgage broker licenses for ignoring the state’s new mortgage broker licensing law. The number amounts to more than half the lenders in the state and could slow down the loan process across the board.

The new licensing law was intended to improve lending practices by requiring new and existing loan officers to complete 40 hours of licensing education and pass a written test.

After a year and a half, a time extension and dozens of reminders, 4,560 mortgage brokers still failed to meet the new requirements, according to Erin Toll, director of the Colorado Division of Real Estate.

Toll said she is disappointed in the final outcome. She also expressed concerns about how the loss would affect Colorado’s credit markets. “I don’t want to be Chicken Little, but the market is so volatile, it could be disastrous for Colorado,” she told the Denver Business Journal. “You shrink the loan-originator population and then tell the lenders ‘we’re not going to buy your loans on the secondary market’ … We could have a disaster.”

Work begins on Mineral Creek Bridge

Orange cones returned to U.S. Hwy 550 north of Durango this week. Work began on Tuesday to replace the Mineral Creek Bridge just south of Silverton.

The current bridge was built in 1955 as a three-span, concrete slab and girder design and has a bridge rating of 33.8 (out of 100). As a result, it landed on the Colorado Department of Transportation’s “Structurally Deficient” list. The new bridge, a single girder structure with wider shoulders, will be constructed upstream of the existing structure, and the highway will be realigned to the north side to join it.

The bridge will be constructed in two seasons. Work this season, which will end by mid-November, will include construction of the bridge abutments (with vertical pilings and wing walls). There will be minimal traffic impacts this fall, and the bridge should be completed by late 2010.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows