Aspen Closer to 100% Renewable Energy Goal With Ridgway Hydropower

Jun 9, 2014

The Ridgway Dam near the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado began generating energy this spring. The City of Aspen has a contract to purchase some of the power.
The Ridgway Dam near the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado began generating energy this spring. The City of Aspen has a contract to purchase some of the power.
Credit Tri-County Water Conservancy District

Water officials in Ridgway, Colorado officially commissioned their new hydropower project on Friday. The City of Aspen is an integral player in the project, which is already providing power to many communities on the Western Slope. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

The City of Aspen began working with the manager of the Ridgway dam more than a decade ago. In 2002, the City urged the Tri-County Water Conservancy District to pursue a study that would find out if hydroelectric power was possible and worthwhile. Ten years later construction started and earlier this year, two turbines began creating power.

"I think the board is very proud of their accomplishments and we hope that this project will last for many years to come, and will be a viable, sustainable development that will benefit many, many people on the Western Slope of Colorado," says Mike Berry, general manager of the Tri-County District.

The project is expected to generate about 25 megawatt hours a year, on average, which could power 2500 homes. The District says the carbon offset is equivalent to taking 4400 cars off the road each year. Berry says hydro is a good renewable energy option for Colorado because of the state’s snowpack.

"Our reservoirs of snow sit at 10,000 or 12,000 feet and all that water falls down rivers and streams, creeks and you name it, and all of that opportunity to produce hydropower is here, in Colorado."

The City of Aspen’s utility has a contract to get about 40 percent of the output in Ridgway. William Dolan is the Utilities Project Coordinator for the City.

"With the issue of climate change, the important thing is that we are a meaningful promoter of a reduction of overall greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s what this facility did," says Dolan.

Aspen’s share of the power is going on the grid, but not powering homes in Aspen. Instead the electrons are being used in Delta, which subscribes to the same energy wholesaler as Aspen. Dolan says the City’s involvement is “greening the wholesale energy pool,” and that’s good for the environment.

"The important thing from an environmental standpoint is that this is a new renewable resource that wouldn’t otherwise been developed had it not been for Aspen. And, so in that way, the physical electrons might not be making it to our substation, but we’re still the ones responsible for putting that green energy on the grid."

Aspen’s utility is working to run on 100 percent renewable energy and the Ridgway project helps. The added hydro puts Aspen at about at about 80 percent renewable. The utility serves 3000 energy accounts.