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MEEKER I In an area where natural gas, coal, oil shale and oil production dominate energy discussion, Meeker rancher George Wenschhof is breaking a new path.
In 2010, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the State of Colorado entered into an agreement to streamline the application process required for hydroelectric power projects.
According to the Governor’s Energy Office, prior to the agreement all hydroelectric projects, from the smallest scale to something the size of the Hoover Dam, were subject to the same application requirements and procedures, a process which could take years. Now, small-scale hydroelectric projects can be completed in months.
Such is the case with Wenschhof’s project, the first of its kind in the nation, which received approval in September 2011, just two months after the application was submitted.
The Wenschhof Hydroelectric Project will consist of a 23 kilowatt powerhouse located on the applicant’s existing irrigation system, which diverts water from the Miller Creek Ditch. The powerhouse and turbine will power Wenschhof’s sprinkler system during irrigation system, saving up to $15,000 a year in electricity expenses.
In a news release, Wenschoff stated, “Rural ranchers really need to be inventive to stay profitable in these tough economic times. The opportunity to use a water resource that was already right here on my property to generate electricity and save irrigation costs was a practical solution.”
According to U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, a proponent for small-scale hydropower development, there are potentially hundreds of opportunities for projects like Wenschhof’s in the state of Colorado.
Small hydroelectric projects should not be subject to the same regulatory process large projects undergo, Tipton believes, because these kinds of projects take place on already disturbed ground involving existing facilities like manmade ditches and canals.
FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff agrees, stating, “Small hydro is a renewable resource that has tremendous potential. FERC and Colorado have shown their commitment to moving these projects forward knowing that, ultimately, it will benefit consumers and help create jobs. It’s a win-win for everyone.”