County examines micro-hydro site | AspenTimes.com

County examines micro-hydro site

Charles Agar
Aspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

PITKIN COUNTY ” Pitkin County commissioners are pondering a code amendment that will make it easier to build micro-hydroelectric plants.

On Monday, the board visited a proposed plant site along Highway 82 in Woody Creek to see what it might look like.

“This is a dream I’ve had for 30 years,” said Bruce FaBrizio, who wants to generate power with the Brush Creek water rushing through his property.

FaBrizio is the founder and CEO of Simple Green, a company that produces nontoxic, biodegradable cleaning products.

The proposed plant will make use of the kinetic energy of Brush Creek as it drops from a culvert under Highway 82 to the Roaring Fork River below.

“We’ll be a negative draw,” FaBrizio said, joking that his electricity meter will run backward.

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In fact, FaBrizio won’t power his own house with the plant, but he can sell the power directly to Holy Cross Energy, county officials said.

But before the plant is built, commissioners would have to pass an amendment to the land-use code that allows for building on steep slopes near water.

If it passes, the code amendment would clear the way for as many as 12 similar hydroelectric plants in the area, according to land-use consultant Tom Newland.

When running at full capacity, the plant will generate 32 kilowatts of electricity per hour, enough to light up 12 average-sized homes, Newland said.

A holding tank will stop water running out of the culvert on the north side of Highway 82. From there, some of the water ” as much as half of the creek’s capacity in winter months ” will follow a 12-inch pipe about 800 feet to a small hydroelectric plant.

The plant will be an underground concrete vault topped with a shed no more than 10 feet tall, according to project contractor Tony Rutgers.

“Everything in the code is against this,” Rutgers said.

While well within the required 100-foot setback from the Roaring Fork River, the plant is adjacent to Brush Creek, and the above-ground feeder pipe crosses a sensitive riparian area and traces slopes greater than 45 degrees, Rutgers said.

FaBrizio won approval from state and federal agencies for water rights on his section of Brush Creek, but he requires the code amendment and approval of the Pitkin County commissioners to go forward, Rutgers said,

“We all know the benefit of hydroelectric,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said. But she wanted to be sure everyone was consulted, including the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

Richards also wanted to be sure that the code amendment was in line with the area watershed plan now in the works.

“It’s great,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said. He was impressed with one resident’s initiative to go green, but stressed that Monday’s site visit was merely to gather data for the board to look at a possible change in the code.

“It doesn’t look as if it’s destructive to the riparian area,” Commissioner Dorothea Farris said. “It makes sense.”

Tom Golec, an engineering consultant on the project, has a similar plant in his Eagle County home along Ruedi Creek.

Golec generates one kilowatt-hour of energy to power his own home, and a separate plant produces about as much as FaBrizio’s planned plant ” more than a pricey solar project that takes up an acre of Carbondale land to generate the same amount of energy.

Golec said that over time, the plant would reduce local carbon emissions by as much as a half-million tons.

Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.

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