McClendon, president of the board of directors of the Delta-Montrose Electric Association, announced that his cooperative and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, sponsors of the event, would collaborate to build a hydroelectric plant on South Canal as it leaves the Gunnison Tunnel.
“This will bring clean, renewable energy into DMEA’s system and will be one of the largest renewable electric facilities in western Colorado,” McClendon said. “It will keep money in our community and keep millions of dollars here in our area.”
The plant will be locally owned and operated and will pay for itself, he said.
As several hundred people took part in last weekend’s festivities at the Montrose County Fairgrounds to commemorate the opening of the tunnel, McClendon said the idea for putting a hydroelectric plant near the tunnel’s mouth goes back 100 years, just as the tunnel does.
In a press release, DMEA noted that The New York Times sent a reporter to Montrose for the 1909 opening of the tunnel, and their Aug. 22, 1909 edition mentioned the feasibility of a hydro plant.
“The water, after it leaves the tunnel, will have 372 feet fall, which can be used to generate electric power sufficient to light every town and every farmhouse in the Uncompahgre Valley and provide power for all kinds of commercial and industrial purposes,” the article read.
That might have been possible back in 1909, but not with the growth the valley has seen for the past 100 years, thanks in large part to the tunnel. The new plant will produce six megawatts of electricity, about 5 percent of DMEA’s entire system demand, with the capacity to support roughly 3,000 homes, which DMEA calls “a significant amount of power for a coop DMEA’s size.”
McClendon praised the water users association for “using the legacy of the past to ensure our future.”
Plans for the new hydro plant drew praise from Gov. Bill Ritter, Sen. Mark Udall, Rep. John Salazar and others, DMEA said.
More details of the power plant – which will not include a dam – will be available next week on DMEA’s website, www.dmea.com.
DMEA spokesman Tom Polikalis said jobs would be created during the plant’s construction, due to start at the end of 2010, but the facility itself will be largely automated. He said the locally produced electricity will save the area about $2 million per year in wholesale power costs.
The daylong celebration of the opening of the tunnel included activities all over the fairgrounds, including old-time children’s games like the three-legged race, food booths and exhibits inside Friendship Hall.
An hour-long program at the grandstands capped off the day, where about 350 people observed a reenactment of speeches made by President Roosevelt (played by Chips Barry) and President Taft (played by Bob Brethouwer, M.D.) at the 1909 Gunnison Tunnel opening.