R. SCOTT RAPPOLD
Two Colorado Springs developers are moving forward with a plan to build a hydroelectric plant near Penrose in Fremont County, and they have elicited some powerful interest.
Jim and Mark Morley of the Morley Cos. have been working for years on a proposed plant on land they own near Brush Hollow Reservoir. The developers have piqued the interest of energy giant TransCanada, as well as state lawmakers, who passed a bill — signed Tuesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper — to encourage this and other such projects.
Instead of a traditional hydroelectric plant powered by flowing water, the Morleys want to build the third pumped hydroelectric storage plant in Colorado. It would work by pumping water uphill to a reservoir when demand is low and letting it run down to power turbines when electric use is high or other parts of a system, such as solar or wind, are not generating much power. The water is used over and over. This form of production doesn’t impact aquatic life by warming water or acting as a barrier to fish like many traditional hydro plants.
“Pumped storage is somewhat of a unique energy asset, because it provides not only energy storage but significant benefits to the transmission system,” said Kyle Nenninger with Chicago-based Energy Advisory Partners, who is assisting the Morleys on the project.
The proposed plant would have the capacity to generate 432 megawatts — a megawatt powers 750 to 1,000 homes at any given time — and employ 300 workers during construction and provide 25 to 30 permanent jobs, Nenninger said. He said the reservoirs above and below the plant probably would not be open to public recreation.
There are many uncertainties, including who would provide a one-time sale of 13,000 acre-feet, or 4.2 billion gallons, of water — to be piped from the Arkansas River — to run the plant.
TransCanada, which could build and run the plant, has not committed to the project, said company spokesman Shawn Howard. Company representatives visited the area last month to hear about the project.
“If you believe that it’s viable, you obviously want to move forward as quickly as you can. But there’s a lot of due diligence that we’re having to do, because it could represent a long-term commitment if we find it viable,” Howard said.
He said the project is promising because the land is available and has an adequate slope, and there are electric transmission lines nearby.
A bill introduced by state Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, also makes it attractive.
House Bill 1083 soared unanimously through the General Assembly in March. It directs the Public Utilities Commission to consider hydroelectric and pumped hydroelectric power as clean energy projects, which allows utilities to recover the cost of the projects through higher rates.