| Water system finds innovative way to harness unused energy
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Water system finds innovative way to harness unused energy

At Pueblo Water, a utility about 100 miles south of Denver, water is piped from a nearby reservoir directly to a treatment plant. 

Matt TrujilloBut the water surges in with too much pressure, requiring a pressure dissipation building to reduce the flow from 85 to 12 pounds per square inch, “so we have something we can work with,” said Matt Trujillo (pictured right), director of operations at Pueblo Water. The pressure is released through valves inside the building by way of noise and vibration, eliminating excess energy. 

For years, officials tossed around another idea that they’re now moving forward with — running the water through a hydroelectric plant to power the pumps and motors inside Pueblo Water’s Whitlock Treatment Facility, harnessing all of that unused electricity. 

“You’re reminded of all that wasted energy every time you drive by and hear that building humming,” Trujillo said.

In the early 2000s, Pueblo Water built a pipeline to draw water from Pueblo Reservoir instead of directly from a river intake. Officials talked about building a hydroelectric plant at the time, but the idea didn’t pan out. For years, the concept kept coming up for discussion, and in 2018, the utility formed a committee to look into hydroelectric options. 

The group found the idea credible, teamed up with water attorneys, and streamlined a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process to get approval for the project. They also learned from neighboring Colorado Springs Utilities and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which either had a similar facility or was in the process of building their own hydroelectric facility.  

“We started small, looking at how we could retrofit the existing building,” Trujillo said. When that didn’t prove to be workable, planners designed a facility that would allow the Groundbreaking ceremony for Pueblo hydroplantwater flow to bypass the dissipation building and run through turbines before being piped to the treatment plant.

Officials expect the new hydroelectric plant — Pueblo Water’s first — to produce 3,500 megawatt hours of electricity annually, saving the utility roughly $400,000 each year when coupled with other operational changes. Pueblo Water officials recently held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site (pictured right)

Plaque of Kevin McCarthyThe new plant is being named after the late Kevin F. McCarthy, the utility’s longest-tenured board member at 32 years (pictured left).

Trujillo said the plant should be in operation by 2023. The facility will house two turbines, a 0.5-megawatt turbine for winter use and another 1.0-megawatt turbine for higher-capacity summer use, allowing crews to perform maintenance on the offline turbine without pausing power generation. The $1.13 million Austrian-built turbines are nearing completion, and Pueblo Water officials are currently soliciting bids for a facility to house them.

When all is finished, officials expect to recoup Pueblo Water’s investment in 10 to 12 years and eventually pass along those savings to its 40,000 customers. 

“When you talk about hydroelectric facilities, most people think of the traditional Hoover Dam that produces energy as the water comes through the dam,” Trujillo said. “But there’s plenty of potential in other areas of the water system to capture that energy and use it.”  

(Photos courtesy of Pueblo Water)
 

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