The City of Boulder recently completed a 2.5-year modernization project of its historic Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric (BCH) facility with the help of a $1.18 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  Originally built in 1910, the BCH facility was in need of upgrading if it was to continue to be operable.  Without a new turbine and generator, operation of the facility was expected to cease within five years or less.


“Hydropower resources are an important part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to develop all of America’s energy resources.  The completion of this important water power project in Colorado demonstrates how investments in America’s clean energy economy are helping to create jobs, diversify America’s energy portfolio and strengthen American energy security,” said David Danielson, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Energy Department.

Boulder’s historic hydrppower plant


The BCH facility was originally built by the Central Colorado Power Company for the sole purpose of hydroelectric power production as part of the Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric System.  The system began delivering water for Boulder’s municipal water supply in the 1950s.  Over the years, the system was owned and operated by numerous companies, and in 2001, the City of Boulder purchased the system from Public Service Co. of Colorado and incorporated it into its hydroelectric program.


“The Boulder Canyon Hydro Facility is extremely unique due to its age, its history, and where and how it was constructed,” said Director of Public Works for Utilities Jeff Arthur.   “The effort to upgrade the turbines was arduous and complex.  Obviously, the city was concerned with continuing operations at the facility, increasing power generation, and improving safety, but equally as important, was preserving the historical significance of the plant itself.  This is a facility the community should be proud to own.”


The modernization project included removing one of two pre-existing 10 megawatt turbine/generators and replacing it with a new five megawatt turbine/generator.  The new five megawatt turbine/generator is more appropriately sized for the plant’s power generation and will generate up to 583,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity during its 50-year lifespan. This will, in effect displace the need to burn more than 300,000 tons of coal (the amount needed in a traditional coal-fired plant to produce the same amount of energy).  Despite its smaller size, it should also generate up to 30 percent more energy because it is more efficient.  The pre-existing turbine/generators were more than 70 years old. One of the original turbine/generators failed in 2000 and was not repaired at that time, but it will remain on site for historical purposes.



Other improvements to the facility included enhanced lightning protection; removal and replacement of aging transformers and an old oil storage tank; upgraded wiring; installation of a state-of-the-art turbine isolation valve; and installing remote monitoring and operation equipment.


The total project cost was approximately $5.155 million and was funded by city water utility funds in addition to the ARRA grant.  The ARRA funding was announced by the DOE in November 2009 when it awarded grants to seven different hydropower projects throughout the country.


Approximately 35,000 new work hours were created as a result of the project, or approximately seven full-time jobs.  This number does not include the hours needed by subcontractors or the associated work hours created or preserved by using materials that are manufactured in the United States, as this project did.


“The city is grateful for the funding support we received from the Department of Energy,” said City Manager Jane Brautigam.  “Without that support, completing this complex project would have been difficult, if not impossible.  As with most of our capital projects, Boulder places a high level of importance on leveraging local funds with other funding sources so that we can make improvements that appeal to the greater good of the community.  We are all proud of this project and expect to see this facility continue its important role of providing our community with clean energy well into the future.”


Boulder’s Hydro Program

Beginning in the early 1980s, Boulder recognized the potential for hydroelectric energy generation within its water system and began developing facilities to produce electricity as a by-product of its water utility operations. Today, Boulder owns and operates eight hydroelectric facilities. These hydroelectric plants produce environmentally friendly hydroelectricity by making use of pressure developed in the water supply pipelines due to the large elevation drop between the city’s water sources in the mountains and delivery points on the plains. This pressure must be reduced to treat and deliver the water and would otherwise be wasted through pressure-reducing valves. Revenue from the sale of the electricity produced by the hydro plants allows the city to maintain lower water rates for its customers.


By the end of 2011, the city had generated approximately 612,531,577 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity since its first hydroelectric project began operation in 1985. Sale of this power has produced approximately $27,095,110 of revenue and has also provided environmental benefits by displacing the need to burn approximately 306,266 tons of coal, preventing the greenhouse gas emissions that would have resulted from traditional coal-fired power generation facilities.


The BCH facility is located on Boulder Creek west of the city. The plant’s power is generated using water diverted at Barker Reservoir that is transported approximately 11.5 miles in the Barker Gravity Pipeline and experiences a 1,800-foot elevation drop to the BCH building.