Aspen family builds on hydro tradition |

Aspen family builds on hydro tradition

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ASPEN – Aspenite Ruthie Brown is building off of her great-grandfather’s foresight to create a model renewable energy project in south-central Colorado.

Brown secured a $308,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $600,000 low interest loan to install a 340-kilowatt hydroelectric project at her family’s A.E. Humphrey Ranch in Creede. The system will produce roughly enough power to supply 230 homes once it is completed in spring 2011.

Brown said she is a strong supporter of renewable energy and wanted to demonstrate to ranchers in the San Luis Valley that hydroelectric power is a cost-effective investment. Her family is negotiating with a local utility to sell the power generated back to the grid. That will provide the income to maintain the historic ranch and keep the land undeveloped for additional generations, she said.

Her family tapped into a special program by the agriculture department to award $62.5 million in stimulus money to grants and loans for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The funds were awarded to 705 farms and ranches across the country. Flux Farms of Carbondale, a consulting firm on renewable energy projects, is helping Brown with the project.

The Brown family roots are best known on her father’s side. Her grandfather, DRC Brown, was a merchant in Aspen’s early days as a silver mining camp. His investment in mines helped build a fortune and his diversified interests helped him avoid the financial ruin that wiped out many mining barons in the silver crash of 1893.

Ruthie’s great grandfather on her mother’s side purchased 400 acres in the high country near Creede in 1920 to start a ranch. One of his first projects was building a 90-foot high dam on Goose Creek to create a recreational lake and a hydro power project to provide electricity for the ranch. That dam was an amazing project, Brown said, because the materials had to be hauled in by hand or by livestock, and the concrete had to be hand-mixed on site.

The Humphreys Lodge on the property was powered solely by that mico-hydro project from 1924 until 1980, when it was hooked to the power grid to provide backup electricity, Brown said. The old powerhouse will be hooked to the grid as part of this project so it can supply power to sell.

The cost of the project is about $900,000. Utilizing the existing dam that her great grandfather constructed 90 years ago was key to making it affordable, Brown said. She is projecting that the project will show a small profit after just one year, thanks to the grant and low-interest loan through the agriculture department.

Brown is working with state Sen. Gail Swartz of Snowmass Village to streamline the permit process for micro-hydro projects so that more landowners in Colorado will pursue them.

Construction at the Humphreys Ranch is expected to begin next year.

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