OURAY – Dan Fossey is justifiably proud of the new micro-hydro facility that will supply most, if not all, of the energy needs of the Ouray Hot Springs Pool.
Fossey, the public works director for the City of Ouray, found out Monday from Mayor Bob Risch that the city finally has the go-ahead from the state to start using the facility, which was built with the help of high school students, contractors, city employees and volunteers.
“I talked to the mayor this morning and we got the variance we needed so we can start this up,” Fossey said. “We’re finally going to get this thing underway.”
The plant would have been up and running three months ago, except for a bureaucratic “foul up,” Risch said.
Risch said the city got a great deal on a generator because a sawmill had canceled its order for one, and the cost to the city was only one-third of the original retail price.
But the generator, which also has a motor, had a plaque on it that said “motor,” not “generator,” so the city’s electrical inspector refused to approve it.
The city then sent letters to the factory requesting a nameplate, Risch said, but the request was refused because the manufacturer worried that it would have no control over where it was placed.
As a next step, Risch obtained a letter from a certified lab stating the piece of equipment was indeed a generator, but even that didn’t satisfy the inspector.
“The inspector wanted us to ship the motor back to Georgia to change the name plate,” Risch said. “I said ‘no way’ for an 800-pound generator, just for the change of nameplate?”
So Risch started “appealing up the chain of command,” he said, and finally got a call from the board of directors of the Department of Regulatory Affairs in Denver on Monday morning.
“They said fine,” Risch said.
The micro-hydro system won’t start up right away, he said, and must first go through a series of final checks. But at least it’s cleared to go.
“It cost us three month’s of time, trying to get to this stage, but right now I’m very relieved that we can turn it on and start saving energy,” Risch said.
Risch said he’s not sure if there will be an official ceremony when the system is turned on.
The small facility was built on the edge of Fellin Park, just south of the pool, so that visitors can take a peek inside and see what’s going on. Risch said he hopes to have some instrument dials installed so that people can see how much energy is being generated both at present and over time, and to show how many tons of coal have been saved.
Risch said he hopes to follow up with the school district about getting science classes involved in the project.
“The shop class helped us with the initial construction and I think it would be cool to have a science class to monitor and see how this is valuable to the community,” he said.
Ouray High principal/superintendent Nick Schafer agreed with Risch.
“I think it would be a great idea to get that going,” he said.
The half-dozen students who helped construct the small building got both high school and college credit for a course in construction trades, as well as hands-on building experience, Schafer said.
The students did the framing on the small pitch-roofed building with wood and metal siding and a metal roof, Fossey said. Mike Fedel did the concrete work and city crews and volunteers put on the siding and roof.
Fossey said the attractive building helps efforts to spruce up the park area near the gazebo alongside the Uncompahgre River. The gazebo was painted last year, he said, and the nearby restrooms were painted this year.
“We’re trying to pretty up this part of the park,” he said.
As he walked around the building, Fossey pointed to a pipeline coming across the river, attached to a walking bridge to the city’s maintenance building next to the micro-hydro powerhouse.
The pipe makes use of the old Biota water line, put in place several years ago by a now-defunct water bottling plant. He pointed to a big discharge pipe over the river and a small overflow pipe below.
“It’s a real simple system,” he said. “The water comes in and we regulate the flow to the Pelton wheel, which turns it, and which in turn, turns the generator attached to the wheel and creates energy.”
The Pelton wheel, invented in the 1870s, is still one of the most efficient types of water turbines. According to a plaque on the side of the building the Pelton wheel used in the facility was built in 1901 and donated by Eric Jacobson, owner of Ouray Hydro Electric Plant at the other end of town.
Construction of the facility was funded by the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, San Miguel Power Association and the City of Ouray.
Fossey said he expects the turbine/generator system to generate 17 kilowatts of energy, with an approximate value of $22,000 savings to the city each year. He said that will provide at least 90 percent of the energy needs of the city-owned hot springs pool.
“We will be hooked directly to the pool filtration building where the bulk of the energy will be used,” Fossey said. “If we generate more than we need, we can sell it back to SMPA.”