Gunnison County Electric Association (GCEA) has been working to develop a hydro-generation project at the Taylor Dam and in early 2020 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA). GCEA and UVWUA intend to form a jointly-owned entity to develop, own, and operate the plant. The MOU contemplates the development of a 200 to 500 kilowatt (kW) hydro generation project at Taylor Dam. A generating plant of this size would operate at or near full capacity 24 hours a day year-round. This high capacity factor could result in 1.6 to 3.9 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually. By comparison, a 200 kW hydro project would produce about the same amount of energy annually as some 1,000 kW (1 megawatt) fixed-tilt solar arrays. Next steps will involve permitting with the Bureau of Reclamation, review, and update of prior studies and project design.
GCEA is a rural electric cooperative based in Gunnison, Colorado. GCEA is investigating the development of a local, small hydroelectric generating plant at the Taylor Reservoir Dam within Gunnison County. GCEA continues to diversify its supply portfolio through the addition of renewable and environmentally friendly, sustainable resources, pursuant to the terms and conditions of the contract with GCEA’s electrical supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc.
The proposed hydroelectric plant at this Bureau of Reclamation facility would be considered a “small hydro” installation, with a maximum generating capacity that is still to be determined. There have been preliminary studies already performed that indicate the hydrology could support between 200 kW and 4.0 MW. There are existing penstocks within the dam structure that could facilitate the development of a hydroelectric plant. Considering a “run of the river only” outflow, it has been estimated that the hydrology would support a 200 kW generator with a near 100% capacity factor during the year, even at minimum flows. To take advantage of spring flows, additional generation capacity could be added if economically feasible.
GCEA has recently signed an MOU with the UVWUA. GCEA and UVWUA intend to form a jointly owned entity to develop, own and operate the plant. The MOU contemplates the development of a 200 to 500 kW hydro generation project at Taylor Dam. The use of facilities at Taylor Reservoir Dam for power generation will require a Lease of Power Privilege with the United States Bureau of Reclamation. The next steps will involve permitting, review and update of prior studies and the creation of a detailed project design and schedule.
In 2009, GCEA partnered with the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and the UVWUA to apply for a grant from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority. The partners provided $15,000 matching funds and hired URS to conduct a preliminary general feasibility study. While this “reconnaissance-level investigation” indicated that adding hydropower at the existing dam would be feasible from a technical and economic perspective, it recommended a more comprehensive feasibility investigation to refine the analysis.
In 2011, GCEA received a technical assistance grant from the Governor’s Energy Office. This study led the GCEA Board of Directors to move forward with further investigations.
In 2013 to 2014, GCEA received a renewable system feasibility study through the USDA. GCEA partnered with the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) on the project and they also contributed to the feasibility study. GCEA hired NEI Electric Power Engineering, Inc. to conduct an Electrical Interconnection and System Impact study. The NEI analysis concluded that a relatively small plant could be built with minimal changes to the distribution system or a larger plant could be constructed to take advantage of the available water resource but would require extensive power system upgrades.
In 2016, Telluride Energy created an assessment study indicating a 200 kW plant would be technically and economically feasible. A generating plant of this size would operate at or near full capacity 24 hours a day year-round. This high capacity factor could result in 1.6 to 3.9 million kWh annually depending on project size of 200 to 500 kW. By comparison, a 200 kW hydro project would produce about the same amount of energy annually as a typical 1,000 kW (1 megawatt) fixed-tilt solar array.
Further studies will be required to determine the specific plant size, civil and structural engineering, permitting, and cost-sharing with the project owners.
Taylor Dam History
The Uncompahgre Project (PDF) is an article from the Bureau of Reclamation, written in 1994 by David Clark and edited by W.J. Simonds. The document describes the rich history of the development of water resources in the Uncompahgre Valley. The Taylor Dam is discussed in the final third of the document.
The Construction of Taylor Park Dam (PDF) is an article written by the Bureau of Reclamation engineer on the project during construction, Donald Jerman. This article was part of the “Reclamation Era” document released in May 1938. The construction details, diagrams, and vintage pictures are invaluable.