That was an interesting article in the May 23 issue [on] Small Hydro. You quoted Kurt Johnson: "Ridgway Dam is a classic example. It doesn't have hydro. Therein lies the opportunity. ..." Well the opportunity was there when the Bureau of Reclamation designed and built the Ridgway Dam, but the money for the hydroelectric component was not. The BuRec engineers know a dam site about hydroelectric, and have known it for a long time. Perhaps a few smaller BuRec designed and built dams have a primary purpose which is/was not compatible with power generation because of the capital cost of the hydroelectric installation vs the return from short or irregular periods of generation. However, if a significant BuRec dam does not have a hydroelectric component, it is worth checking the RuRec archives to see if the plans are not sitting on the shelf waiting for the money to build that component.
I was the Administrative Officer at the BuRec Construction Office when the Ridgway Dam was topped out. I can tell you that the staff was ready to go with building the hydroelectric component – but the flow of money stopped. Consideration was given to building just the penstock and powerhouse and moth balling them. Then when the demand for generation developed, only the turbine, generator and transmission lines would have to be added. That would have been a relatively quick start. Still, the money was not available. You can figure out the politics of the time. Coal generation was king at the now defunct Colorado Ute Electric. As nearly as I can tell, coal is still king at Tri-State Electric which absorbed Colorado Ute when it went bankrupt.
Now I understand that the City of Delta went for cheap only with its city-owned electric system and locked itself out of affordable green generation potentials. It can't even afford to clean up its heavy fuel diesel motor generators. As I recall, they at one time considered a small hydroelectric plant in combination with their runoff collection on the south slope of the Grand Mesa (the White Ranch?) for the city water system. I suppose that went away when the Project 7 water system became their supplier.
I suggest Norway as a place with lots of examples of hydroelectric without big dams. Try to convince someone to send you there for a couple of weeks to survey their practices.
That's far away. However, it's worth checking the city of Idaho Falls for the interesting system they use to generate power from the river that runs through town.
– James D. Parmenter