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HYDROELECTRIC

In the early days of electric power, each town and village either had their own privately organized generating plant, or they continued to use kerosene for lighting. Since water power could re-utilize existing mill infrastructure, was reliable, demanded less attendance, and carried no fuel charge, it was the much preferred technology for discrete community sized generating plants. Local distribution was generally at 2400v, the same as the most common generation voltage. Small reciprocating steam engine plants were often used during periods of low water, sometimes even belted directly to the flywheel of the hydraulic turbine. In Ouray CO the rates for electrical service in 1907 were 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, approximately the same rate as is charged for electrical service today. The small local plants set their own local frequency via primitive fly-ball governors, electric clocks were often many minutes late when heavy loads reduced the shaft speeds of the synchronous generators; consumer voltages likewise were often at odds with the proscribed standard of 115v.

In the early 1920’s, after cases of hydroelectric trespass on the National Forests (which was ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court) and uncertainty regarding the development of power-plants on navigable waters, the U.S. Congress passed the “Federal Power Act,” by which legislation the Federal Power Commission (FPC) attained regulatory control of hydroelectric plants on navigable waterways and Federal lands. In the 1930’s, under the Rural Electrification Administration, farms, towns, and villages were connected into regional grids with interurban power transmission lines; transmission voltages of 69kV and higher became commonplace (note; much of the early high voltage research was conducted by Telluride Power Company, as directed by Nikola Tesla and the Nunn Brothers, in their attempt to inter-connect and synchronously operate the Ames and Ouray hydroelectric stations via a 30 mile three-phase transmission line over 13,400’ high Imogene Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Western Colorado). Under the depression era programs including the Works Progress Administration, the Bonneville Power Authority, Tennessee Valley Authority, etc, large hydroelectric plants were constructed by the Federal Government to provide inexpensive hydro power for regional economic development to the REA’s. Rapid industrialization during World War II led to the short lead-time construction of large thermal central stations to power war industries and supplement the large Federal hydroelectric plants.

After WWII, it was found to be less expensive to burn slightly more fuel to run the big coal/HFO thermal plants and to retire the village sized hydro plants with their community based operators; in the 1950’s and 1960’s, fully 90% of the sub-5mW sized hydroelectric plants were retired, their loads taken via the large thermal stations and long distance transmission lines. During this time regional grids were interconnected to become national grids; power could be moved tremendous distances (albeit with considerable line losses) via large transmission lines operating at 345kV. In the mid-1970’s, the Arab Oil Embargo dramatically raised HFO prices, leading to the passage of the “Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act” by the U.S. Congress. The PURPA legislation promulgated purchase prices for renewably generated power based on the concept of “avoided cost.” With a high HFO based purchase price, and a Federally mandated market, small scale hydro developers started breaching J.P. Morgan’s (Electric Bond and Share/General Electric) monopoly “wall” which surrounded the U.S. utility industry and their entirely co-opted partners at the state public utility commissions (electricity is no more of a “natural monopoly” than automobiles, hamburger or fishing lures; it is simply a residual trophy of the House of Morgan’s political clout) via the redevelopment of the numerous small hydroelectric plants which had been callously abandoned 2 decades earlier. Hydrowest was incorporated to participate in this industry (which was romantically documented by John McPhee in his “Mini-Hydro” article in the New Yorker Magazine).

Interestingly enough, our first two projects had been listed on the “National Register of Historic Places” while still forlorn and abandoned; much of the FPC (now FERC) policy for the treatment of historic hydroelectric plants was developed as part of the licensing for our Bridal Veil plant located in Telluride, CO. We also own and operate the oldest working American power-plant (1887), located in Ouray, CO. Sensitively bringing ancient, vandalized machines and shattered historic buildings back to life as reliable, efficient, competitive and compliant commercial electricity sources is a core ability of the Hydrowest enterprise.

Our team has restored, permitted, and/or operated many old hydroelectric power-plants, including:

Telluride, CO500kW(Full restoration, permitting, historic site/we own)
Ouray, CO900(Full restoration, permitting, historic site/we own)
Georgetown, CO300(Partial restoration, permitting, old site/we own)
Palisade, CO1,200(Permitting, old site/we own)
Hubbardston, MI300(Partial restoration/we own)
Caledonia, MI1,000(Contract operator)
Middleville, MI300(Contract operator)
Irving, MI600(Contract operator)
Eaton Rapids, MI900(Contract operator)
Cedaredge, CO150(Permitting, municipal raw water line/City owned)
Hotchkiss, CO100(Permitting, municipal raw water line/City owned)
Rangely, CO1,500(Permitting, new dam/Water district owned)
Estes Park, CO900(Permitting, historic site/City owned)

We have served as development, redevelopment, acquisition and/or operating consultants at many sites, including:

Rio Azufre, Chile20,000kW(Electro Andes, Chile---used machinery)
S.Francisco, Chile1,000(Electro Andes, Chile---used machinery)
Kezar Falls, ME1,600(Hydrowatt/Epico, Italy---acquisition/operating)
Limerick, ME800(Hydrowatt/Epico, Italy---acquisition/operating)
Hackett Mills, ME700(Hydrowatt/Epico, Italy---acquisition/operating)
Fallassburg, MI1,000(STS, IL---initial permitting, used machinery)
Ouray, CO20(City of Ouray, CO---used machinery)
Ridgway, CO120(San Juan Guest Ranch---new machinery)