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Ruedi Creek electric project set

Aspen Times staff report

A hydroelectric project on Ruedi Creek is expected to be producing green-friendly electricity within a month.

Dreamed up by two men who live along the creek, the plant will generate enough electricity to power about seven houses with electric heat and appliances. The power will be sold to the local utility company for use by consumers.

Tom Golec and Jerry Peters have 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 finally coming to fruition,” Golec said. “Getting a check from Holy Cross is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

The electric power they produce will be more expensive than power distributed by Holy Cross Electric from coal-fired power plants. But it’s generated in an environmentally sound way. The two believe their power can be sold at a premium price to environmentally conscious consumers, the same way Holy Cross sells wind-generated power. Local institutions have expressed interest in buying the power at green prices, Golec said.

The plant is expected to produce more than 100,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, said Randy Udall of CORE, the Aspen-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency. And the project will have solid environmental benefits, which was the most important factor to Peters and Golec.

“It’s going to avoid the need to burn about 100,000 pounds of coal a year,” Udall said. “That will keep 200,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air a year.” Udall said he’s impressed with the effort and resources Peters and Golec have dedicated to the project.

“Tom’s really into clean power, and it’s just something they want to do,” he said.

For the last eight years, Golec has provided 110-volt power to his own house from a smaller hydroelectric generator powered by water from a spring behind the house.

“I’m committed to it,” Golec said. “There’s sometimes hassles when you have pipes and pressure. But I have a love for it.”

Before leaping into the project, Golec and Peters sought help from CORE. Udall helped the two apply for a needed license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and set up meetings with Holy Cross.

“He’s a great intermediary,” Golec said. “If it wasn’t for Randy, I don’t know if we’d have gotten this far with the project.

Holy Cross had some concerns that had to be discussed. “It took two or three meetings before they were behind the project,” he said.

Udall also helped Golec and Peters nail down a $4,000 grant from the Aspen Skiing Company’s Employee Environment Foundation.

Kelly Murphy, a member of the board of the foundation, said the board selected the Golec/Peters project for a grant partly because it’s important in getting the technology known. One micro-hydro plant doesn’t make a huge dent in the use of air-polluting coal, but it’s a first step.

“This would be a start in getting this sort of thing on everybody’s radar screen,” Murphy said.

The power plant is about one and one-half miles upstream from Ruedi Reservoir. A turbine and generator are housed in a nine-by-12-foot masonry and frame building in a steep-sided section of the creek.

Water from Ruedi Creek is diverted into an eight-inch pipe 2,000 feet upstream from the powerhouse. A dam was not required. The pipe was buried in a trench dug by hand in rocky soil, starting on Golec’s property and ending on Peters’ land.

The two already had water rights allowing them to use Ruedi Creek water for irrigation, but they had to apply for a “non-consumptive” water right, which allows them to use the water and return it to the creek.

The water drops about 230 feet from the intake to the turbine. The last section of pipe falls at a 45-degree angle. In summer, with a flow of about two cubic feet per second in the pipe, the plant will generate up to 25 kilowatts.

Lesser flows in the winter will probably produce about 10 kilowatts. The generator can be adjusted to the flow, Golec said. He and Peters have taken measures to ensure a healthy flow will always remain in the creek.

“We’re not into drying up the creek,” Golec said. This is supposed to be an environmental project, and it wouldn’t make sense to damage the aquatic environment in an attempt to produce green power, he said.

The turbine, which was shipped from Washington state, harnesses the stream’s energy to turn the generator. It weighs 1,000 pounds. The Canadian-made generator, which sits next to the turbine, weighs about 1,200 pounds.

To ensure that the powerhouse could handle this weight, along with the stress exerted by the equipment, Peters and Golec poured a foundation of about 16 cubic yards of concrete. They lowered the building materials into the creek bottom with a crane.

“We didn’t want to run a road down to it,” Golec said. “That would have been an environmental disaster.” Excavation for the foundation was done by hand, with pry bars and shovels.

At present, the power plant is ready to go. The only thing that’s missing is a computerized safety package that Holy Cross Electric requires, and that should arrive within a month, Golec said.

It’s been a lot of work, and it’s not going to be a particularly profitable project, because it has to compete with cheap coal. But Golec is satisfied with his decision to pursue the project.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” he said.


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