Hydroelectric plant now a reality for valley men | AspenTimes.com
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Hydroelectric plant now a reality for valley men

Jeremy Heiman

A shared vision has become a reality for two men who live along Ruedi Creek.

A backyard hydroelectric plant built by Tom Golec and Jerry Peters is up and running. The plant is generating electricity that flows into the public utility grid, without creating greenhouse gases or other pollution.

The project was completed with the installation of a control panel and safety equipment in mid-February. The pair has put about one year of labor and between $50,000 and $60,000 of their own money into the project, which is more properly called a micro-hydroelectric generator.

“It’s running really well,” Peters said. “It’s very satisfying. Tom and I have worked about as hard as we ever have in our entire lives.

“And, we’re keeping 200,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere,” he added. Producing the same amount of electricity from a coal-fired power plant would release that amount of carbon dioxide.

The plant is generating nine to 10.5 kilowatts, which is actually better than expected for winter, with the stream at a low level.

“We’re taking out enough to make it cost effective,” Golec said.

Peters explained that only one of two nozzles is now directing water through the turbine blades, which turns the generator, and that nozzle isn’t fully open. With the spring runoff, both nozzles will be opened, and the plant’s output will rise.

“We expect it’ll be running at capacity in a couple of months,” Golec said.

The project will generate 25 kilowatts when it’s running full bore. All summer and into the fall, the plant is expected to run at its maximum.

A fully electric house uses about three and one-half kilowatts, he said.

The power from the plant is produced at 480 volts and split to 240 volts by Holy Cross transformers.

Peters said the only problem anticipated during the runoff is river debris clogging the intake. The intake and the catch basin that feeds it are both screened to keep out debris, but the partners will have to check it from time to time, he said.

The Ruedi Creek generator has a number of safety devices, including one that shuts it down when the power grid is down. A power company technician checked the safety of the operation and gave the plant a green light.

“He walked away smiling,” Golec said.

Peters and Golec celebrated their success with executives of Holy Cross Electric, the local utility company, and others who helped with the project in late February. Holy Cross General Manager Kent Benham and Dave Church, a Holy Cross marketing specialist, drove to the site in the company’s Toyota Prius, a super-economical, gasoline-electric hybrid car.

“We were very pleased those two took the time to come up,” Golec said.

Randy Udall, executive director of CORE, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, also attended. CORE helped with utility company and government logistics and is working on marketing the energy produced by the plant.

“Randy Udall was really a major factor in getting this done,” Peters said.

The Aspen Skiing Co.’s Environment Foundation helped, too.

Udall complimented Peters and Golec on their work.

“I was impressed by what a slick, professional installation these two did,” Udall said. He added he was pleased that the diversion for the turbine leaves most of the water in the creek, preserving the aquatic habitat.

He also thanked Holy Cross for its collaboration in the project.

Udall said other opportunities for micro-hydroelectric projects exist in the valley, and CORE would love to see people take advantage of them.

“If someone thinks they have a possibility,” he said, “we’d love to talk about it.”

Golec said he doesn’t know when he and Peters will get their first check from Holy Cross. “It doesn’t matter to us,” he said. “It’s just good to have that thing running.”

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