Renewable energies a growing segment of power picture

The sunny skies of western Colorado and eastern Utah along Energy Alley are a powerful source of energy awaiting capture.

Heat trapped underground, likewise, is waiting to be turned to use on the surface.

Renewable-energy advocates also are looking anew at the energy generated when water runs downhill and when the wind blows.

From a proposed solar generation site in Green River, Utah, to a multisource energy park in Rifle, governments, utilities, entrepreneurs and some individuals are testing new methods of heating and lighting buildings and tapping into the electrical grid to sell, not use, electricity.

Grand Junction, according to Tourism-Review.com, is the seventh-sunniest city in the United States, and Mesa State College says it will rely heavily on the city’s 300 sunny days a year to generate solar power.

The college has two solar-panel arrays, one on the new science building and one on the new North Avenue residence hall. A third array is to be constructed as part of the expansion of Saunders Fieldhouse. In all, those panels are to generate 130 kilowatts of electricity, and the college’s two-year plan includes generating an additional 1.2 megawatts of solar power.

Solar power is at the heart of a test at the Cameo Station in De Beque Canyon. The coal-fired power plant is to be closed, but before that happens, Xcel Energy will test a 1-megawatt, partially solar power plant at the location.

The idea is to use the power of the sun to heat water, so less coal is needed to turn it to steam and spin the turbines that produce electricity.

The test will extend the life of the Cameo Station by a year, but the entire facility will shut down when the test is complete.

Ute Water in Grand Junction and Delta-Montrose Electric Association each are looking to generate electricity from falls within water-delivery systems.

Ute filed a draft application in October with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeking to install a 610-kilowatt generator on its raw water line leading into its treatment plant near Palisade.

The generator would produce enough electricity to operate the water-treatment plant, and any excess electricity would be sold to Xcel Energy, Joe Burtard of Ute Water said.

If the federal agency approves the application, Ute will order the turbine generator and begin construction with an eye toward putting the generator online in late 2011 or early 2012.

Delta-Montrose Electric Association, meanwhile, is applying to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to generate electricity as water diverted from the Gunnison River leaves the Gunnison Tunnel and falls to the South Canal.

The $30 million project would supply 6 megawatts of power on a seasonal basis. The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users don’t divert in the winter.

Still, it could generate up to 5 percent of the association’s current annual needs and be particularly helpful in meeting peak summertime needs, according Jim Heneghan, renewable-energy engineer for the association.

The idea has been around for years, Heneghan said, but it wasn’t until recently that it made economic sense.

“Now feasibility reports show it can produce power at or less than the cost to pay for itself,” Heneghan said. “In that respect, we couldn’t pass it up.”

At the far east end of the Grand Valley, meanwhile, a tower nearly 150 feet high is gathering information that could eventually attract a company to build a wind farm above Palisade that would catch the breeze from De Beque Canyon.

Wazee Energy of Denver will decide next year whether to install three other test towers, which it would monitor for three years before deciding whether to build a wind farm on the site.

The Bureau of Land Management then would conduct an environmental review, which would include an opportunity for public comment.

The entire process could take three or four years, BLM spokeswoman Erin Curtis said.


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