Hydropower

hydropower system equipment

Hydropower systems use the kinetic energy in flowing water to produce electricity or mechanical energy. Currently there are over 60 operating hydropower facilities throughout Colorado with a combined installed capacity of 1,150 MW.  In the past few years, Colorado has seen a flood of new hydropower projects, many of which are located on U.S. Bureau of Reclamation dams and canals, including the following:

  • Carter Lake (2.6 MW): completed 2013
  • South Canal Drops 1 and 3 (7.5 MW): completed 2013
  • Ridgway Reservoir (8 MW): completed 2014
  • Pueblo Reservoir (7 MW): in development
  • Shavano Falls (2.8 MW): completed 2015
  • Lake Granby (1.2 MW): completed 2016
  • South Canal Drop 2 (1 MW): in development

According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA), the state has substantial untapped capacity for hydropower development within existing agriculture-related infrastructure, including the following:

  • Pressurized Irrigation Systems: Approximately 7% of Colorado’s irrigated land has pressurization potential of around 30 MW.
  • Ditch Drops: 123 potential project sites statewide with flows of over 100 CFS or drops of at least 150 feet.
  • Existing Dams: 102 agriculture-related dams with technical development potential.

There is also potential in Colorado for hydropower using existing infrastructure. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the state currently has more than 30 potential hydropower sites at reclamation facilities with the potential to produce more than 105,000 MWh per year. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that there are an additional 11 sites with the potential to produce over 632,000 MWh per year.

In recent years, new innovative technologies have been developed to harness hydropower throughout the water distribution process, including the delivery of clean drinking water and the return flows back to treatment facilities. Colorado is likely to have numerous hydropower opportunities in this particular area, given its topography and the geographic locations from which its water flows.

The Colorado Energy Office created the Colorado Small Hydropower Handbook, which serves as a step-by-step guide to developing projects in Colorado. This handbook can be accessed here.